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Ore. legislature passes paid sick leave

Republicans tried without success Friday to derail a state bill that would require businesses to offer sick leave to their employees, arguing the measure would be bad for business and devastating for the agriculture industry.

Democrats were unswayed, sending the bill to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown in a 33-24 vote that mostly followed party lines.

The bill is a top priority for Democrats and the interest groups that support them, who say it will ensure people don't have to work while they or a child is sick.

Republicans raised a number of objections, but they homed in particularly on the effects the bill would have on agriculture. Farmers growing perishable crops have a limited window to pick them and could be ruined if workers call in sick unexpectedly, several GOP lawmakers said.

Furthermore, they said, farmers can't make back higher costs because food prices are determined by global commodity markets.

"The agricultural industry is dependent on the whims of nature," said Rep. Michael Nearman, R-Independence. "I just find it hard to believe that there isn't an agricultural exemption, some sort of recognition that the work done in agriculture is different from the work done elsewhere in the economy."

Rep. Paul Holvey, a Eugene Democrat, said farmworkers often do backbreaking work for long hours outdoors and low wages. They need paid sick leave as much or more than anyone else, he said.

"Agricultural workers are a part of our society," Holvey said. "We cannot and should not turn our backs on them."

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