Politics & Government

House passes Tacoma lawmaker’s sick leave law

On a party-line 51-46 vote, the state House passed a bill Tuesday that would require most businesses in Washington to grant employees paid sick and safe leave.

House Bill 1356 would mandate that all but the smallest businesses in the state give their employees paid leave. Employers with more than four but fewer than 50 full-time employees would have to give workers 40 hours of paid sick leave each year. Employees working for businesses that employ 250 or more people would need to offer a minimum of 72 hours of paid leave a year.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said workers throughout the state fear for their jobs if they stay home from work for health and safety issues. The bill would allow workers to miss work in cases of illness, or when their safety is at risk, such as in instances of domestic violence.

“Getting sick should not mean that you’re going to get fired or you’re going to lose your paycheck,” Jinkins, the bill sponsor, said. “It shouldn’t mean you have to make a decision between taking care of your child when your child is home sick and feeding them at the end of the week because you don’t have paid sick leave.”

Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, cited his success as an owner of a small business that gives employees paid sick leave. He said his decision hasn’t negatively affected his business, The Cheesemonger’s Table.

“My employees aren’t an expense,” he said. “The health and safety of my employees is my business.”

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, applauded Peterson’s decision to give paid leave to his employees, but said other employers should have the right to make that same choice, not have it forced on them.

“This bill says we all have to make the choice he made,” he said. “Why not say to the people of Washington, ‘you get the same choice that (Peterson) had.’ ”

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it could face Republican opposition and where a companion bill did not receive a committee hearing. But Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who chairs the Committee on Commerce and Labor, said he will likely give the House’s version a hearing.

Baumgartner said his concern with the paid leave legislation remains the effect it could have on small businesses by raising their costs. He said the Senate’s Republican caucus has concerns about the bill and other labor legislation, including a bill that also passed the House on Tuesday to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12.

“We have an economy that’s still recovering from a great recession, and we have a lot of challenges to our budget that require people to be in the labor force and getting to work,” he said. “I think our caucus will be very cautious about passing out anything that hurts people getting back to work.”

In January, Tacoma became the second city in the state behind Seattle to pass a sick leave law. Tacoma will require businesses to give employees at least three days of paid sick leave starting in February 2016.