- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A bill to make Vermont the fifth state to require employers to provide paid sick leave to workers cleared its next-to-last hurdle Wednesday as the House approved Senate changes. The measure now goes to Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat who supports it.

The yearslong effort to pass the measure featured testimony from a Statehouse cafeteria worker in 2014 who told lawmakers she had made some of their lunches when she was sick one day because she couldn’t afford to stay home without getting paid.

The 81-64 vote in the Democratic-controlled House was expected. The House had passed a paid sick leave bill last spring and sent it to the Senate, which made changes to make the measure somewhat more business-friendly.

But the House vote Wednesday followed two hours of debate in which supporters and critics of the measure offered by-now familiar arguments.

“This legislation puts an end to an era where some Vermonters were faced with the decision of going to work sick or potentially losing their job,” Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, and Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, said in a joint statement.

Critics complained that many small businesses already struggle to pay increasing taxes and fees, and that the state was about to load on another mandate.

“We’re taking away the owner’s right to put a package together that would work both for the owners and for the employees,” said Rep. Ronald Hubert, a Milton Republican and store owner. “It seems that government knows better how to run small businesses than the owners do.”

The bill requires employers to offer workers three paid sick days to each worker in 2017 and 2018; five days a year thereafter. It does not cover employees younger than 18, those working fewer than 18 hours a week or 21 weeks a year. It also exempts certain other classes of employees, including substitute teachers and others who get to decide how often they work.

More than 20 cities around the country, the states of California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon and the District of Columbia have mandatory paid sick leave, supporters of the Vermont bill said.

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