- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Democrats on an Oregon legislative committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would require nearly all employers to give workers up to five days a year of paid sick leave.

The measure would extend a mandate enacted in Portland and Eugene to employers statewide and make Oregon the fourth state with a paid-leave requirement.

Democrats said their bill would give an assist to low-income workers, who are much more likely to have to give up pay when they’re sick or need to care for an ill child.

“This is a bill whose time has come,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat who heads the Senate Workforce Committee. “If you look at our neighboring countries and countries around the world, the notion of paid sick leave, it’s the norm.”

Employees shouldn’t be forced to choose between working while sick or forgoing pay, Democrats said.

Republicans and business interests objected, saying it would impose a significant cost on small businesses.

“I think about how some of these businesses are barely keeping their heads above water, and we’re basically putting weights on them and telling them to swim harder,” said Rep. Kim Thatcher, a Republican from Keizer. “Some of them aren’t going to make it.”

The Senate Workforce Committee advanced the measure in a party-line vote, sending it to the Ways and Means Committee. The latter panel could take it up at any time.

The bill would apply to all employers with at least six workers. Employees would accrue at least one hour of sick leave for each 30 hours of work. They could use up to five days per year and carry over unused time into the next year, with a cap of 80 hours accrued.

Small businesses with fewer than six employees would be required to offer an equal amount of unpaid leave for sick workers.

Employees denied a right to paid sick time could file a lawsuit or enter a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Paid leave mandates have been approved in Connecticut, California and Massachusetts, according to legislative researchers. Various cities have also adopted their own mandates.

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