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Editorial: Komline’s beef with sick leave is all politics, not defending small business

Of the issues facing Vermont’s Legislature this session, the opposition to a modest paid sick leave bill for Vermont businesses has been overplayed by a handful of Republicans seeking to “protect” small businesses against the rule of big government.
The bill, as proposed and initially passed by the Senate, provides for three days of paid sick leave in an employee’s first two years of employment and then five days of sick leave after that. The House passed a similar bill last year with no exemptions for small businesses, thus assuring the bill would soon be signed into law if the Senate concurred.
After initial approval of the bill last week, an amendment to the bill was proposed by Senate Republicans to exempt businesses with five or fewer employees. It failed by one vote, 15-14, but is being brought up for a second vote this Wednesday because 89-year-old Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Washington, says he misunderstood the amendment and wants to change his mind.
News reports suggest Senate President Pro Temp John Campbell, a Demo­crat, is a bit peeved by the maneuver, but Republican Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset, who apparently had the support of Lt. Gov. Phil Scott in getting Doyle to change his mind, said she was unapologetic about blindsiding Campbell with the request for a revote. Kromline has been a fierce opponent of the bill because she considers it “one more hit” on Vermont’s small busi­nesses.
And that’s the crux of this charade. Komline, with Scott in the background, is seeking popular support for supposedly sticking up for the state’s smallest businesses. It’s a bald attempt to suggest Republicans defend the business community while Democrats don’t.
But, seriously, do small businesses treat their employees so badly they would want them to work while sick? Quite the contrary.
Most small businesses treat their employees like family. They work as a team, make allowances for each other if someone is sick or wants to visit a child at school, attend a ballgame during the school day, or perhaps even take a vacation. They cover for each other and do whatever is needed to make it work for both the employee and employer.
That’s reality. What may rankle a few small business owners, however, is being required to adopt a paid sick leave policy because it feels like big government is telling them what to do. It’s the oversight they might object to, even though we would wager 99 percent of them do the right thing by their employees.
Nor is providing three days of paid sick leave, or five days, going to send any small business into bankruptcy. At $10 an hour, that’s $240 per year, or $400 per year for five days after the third year. That’s no budget buster no matter how small you are. Moreover, it is a budgeted expense because the employer plans to pay that person 40 hours of work for 52 weeks; they don’t budget with the expectation that one or more employees will get sick so they won’t have to pay for those sick days. And most small businesses don’t hire a backup if someone is sick for a day or two — they just cover the bases best they can and move on.
The bill’s greater importance is to provide relief for hourly employees of larger firms who might not offer sick leave and don’t threat their employ­ees like family. Such circumstances encourage sick employees (who may be making $10-$20 per hour) to come to work so they don’t lose a substantial chunk of a week’s pay — a definite hardship for some who need every nickel to make ends meet.
That Komline could take issue with such a common-sense proposal ex­poses the charade for what it is: a political ploy to position small businesses against this (or any) government mandate — not because it’s harmful to the business, but because it fits into a Republican ideology that pits business against government regulation. Hopefully the amendment will be defeated this Wednesday and the Legislature can move on to more pertinent matters.
— Angelo S. Lynn

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