- Associated Press - Friday, June 12, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Republicans tried without success Friday to derail an Oregon 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 are 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 farm workers 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.”

The bill requires employers with at least 10 workers to offer up to 40 hours of paid leave per year, staring in January. Smaller employers would be required to provide unpaid leave. Employers that already offer more generous leave policies would be unaffected.

Oregon would become the fourth state to require paid leave, after California, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Portland has required paid sick leave, and the Eugene City Council approved a sick-leave mandate that has yet to take effect. The bill’s proponents said a consistent statewide policy would be better than allowing cities to make their own rules.

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