2/5/08

Unions' sick-day state-mandate lies in wait

The leader of Ohio's Senate signaled little interest Monday in moving forward with an initiative that would require many businesses to provide their employees with paid sick days.

Senate President Bill Harris said top lawmakers hadn't discussed the proposal, which was submitted to the Legislature about a month ago after receiving the necessary number of signatures to put it before lawmakers.

Frustrated supporters of the policy — which would require businesses with 25 or more employees to provide them with at least seven paid sick days a year — vowed they would gather enough valid signatures to place the proposal on the November ballot if the Republican-controlled Legislature doesn't act.

If it is not approved in roughly the next 90 days, the proposal could have ramifications for the presidential election. It is heavily supported by organized labor, whose members tend to vote overwhelmingly Democrat.

Government mandates for sick days are strongly opposed by the business community, which is a core Republican constituency.

"The truth is we've heard nothing that indicates that this is moving forward," said Dale Butland, spokesman for Ohioans for Healthy Families, the coalition pushing the sick-day policy. "We certainly hope that the leaders of the Legislature will not ignore 270,000 Ohioans who signed this petition."

Harris, an Ashland Republican, said there had been no discussion of taking up the initiative, while Republican House Speaker Jon Husted of Kettering has not yet decided whether to address it, said spokeswoman Karen Stivers.

The initiative has not been assigned a bill number, and lawmakers have a full plate of complex issues to deal with in an election year, including a comprehensive energy bill and proposed changes to Ohio's voting systems.

Butland discounts accusations that there is a partisan drive behind the issue, saying support for mandatory paid sick days cuts across party lines. He also said the coalition would prefer that the Legislature act so the group doesn't have to try to get the measure on the ballot.

The coalition turned in 268,000 signatures to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who determined that roughly 154,693 were valid. The group needed 120,683 valid signatures to have the proposal submitted to the Legislature. It would need 120,683 additional valid signatures to place the proposal on the November ballot if lawmakers fail to act.

The coalition said polling shows 72 percent of Ohioans support the initiative. Forty-two percent of the state's work force — or 2.2 million Ohioans — have no paid sick days, Butland said.

The business community has fought the proposal, saying the mandates would hurt Ohio's already poor economic climate. Businesses want the flexibility to provide their own benefit packages to employees.

"This is not a proposal that would be conducive to creating jobs and turning Ohio around," said Ty Pine, state legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Ohio.

Pine said the federation has communicated with legislative leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers that 94 percent of its 25,000 members don't support the sick day initiative.

(pal-item.com)

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