The pandemic changed a lot. But not the partisan debate over paid leave | Thursday Morning Coffee

June 3, 2021 7:17 am

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped just about every facet of our culture, from how we work, to how we live and play. But one thing it didn’t do was close the partisan divide over paid leave for American workers.

As our friends at report, lawmakers in just three states, Colorado, New Mexico, and New York, have approved bills requiring employers to provide paid sick days. Colorado legislators also approved a paid family leave law.

“This past year’s paid leave laws—like most of the prior laws—were enacted in blue states, meaning workers in left-leaning states will continue to have more access to the benefits those measures bring,” Stateline’s Sophie Quinton reported.

Democrats and their allies in organized labor argue that such laws are needed more than ever so that workers can stay home to care for sick family members. Republicans, predictably, counter that now isn’t the time to impose new mandates on businesses already hard hit by the pandemic, Quinton reported.

“People were very conscious of the fact that illness spreads in the workplace,” New Mexico state Rep. Christine Chandler, the sponsor of her state’s paid leave bill, which passed without a single Republican vote, told Stateline. “I think that did lend itself to the success of our being able to get the bill through.”

New Mexico state Sen. Bill Sharer, a Republican, carped to Stateline that his state has “all of these small businesses that barely survived COVID, and now you want to add another layer of bureaucratic requirements on top of that.”

Right now, 14 states and Washington, D.C., require certain employers to offer paid sick days; nine states and Washington, D.C., require employers to offer paid family and medical leave; and two states have general leave laws that require employers to offer paid time off for a range of reasons, Stateline reported, citing data compiled by A Better Balance, a New York City-based nonprofit that advocates for workers.

A caveat: Some of the laws have yet to be implemented. The law in New Mexico’s law won’t require employers to offer sick days until July 2022, Stateline reported.

(Map via The Pew Center on the States).

Proposals before Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled General Assembly similarly seek to address the paid leave gap.

One such bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, would require employers with at least four employees to provide 12 weeks of paid leave to eligible employees, based on the eligibility requirements set out under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

That leave would be counted against the FMLA leave to which an employee is entitled, “for many of the same circumstances as FMLA, with the significant difference that the leave would be paid, not unpaid as provided for under the federal law,” Briggs’ office said in a statement.

“Unpaid leave is not the answer because most families cannot afford to go without a paycheck,” Briggs said in a statement. “New parents need time to care for their children without worrying about how they will afford food and shelter. The past year has demonstrated how important it is to be able to care for an ill family member and still pay the bills.”

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Labor & Industry Committee in January took up a paid leave bill sponsored by Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, a likely 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidate. On the Democratic side of the aisle, Sen. Vincent Hughes, of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committeealso is sponsoring paid leave legislation. Both bills are still mired in committee. Sen. Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, is the prime Democratic co-sponsor of Laughlin’s bill.

“Over the past several years, paid sick leave has gained attention as numerous cities across the United States, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have enacted ordinances mandating paid sick leave,” Hughes wrote in a memo seeking support for his proposal. “Since 2011 when Connecticut became the first state to require paid sick leave, thirteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid sick leave laws.”

Whether they were afraid of the virus or were trying to get ahead of new laws, some businesses moved on their own last year to expand paid sick days, Stateline reported. About a quarter of private-sector employers created sick leave policies or added days to their policies during that period, Stateline reported, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Ninety percent of employers said the changes were temporary, Stateline reported.

In his ‘Dear Colleague,’ memo, Hughes stressed the need to find a long-term solution as temporary paid leave provisions authorized under the federal CARES Act expired.

“It is past time for the Commonwealth to enact a comprehensive paid leave policy that will provide individuals, families and employers peace of mind in these trying times,” Hughes wrote.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, who has embraced the myth of a stolen election, was among a cadre of GOP lawmakers who traveled to Arizona on Wednesday to take an up-close look at an ongoing review of election resultsMarley Parish and Stephen Caruso report.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s ongoing fight with legislative Republicans over the flags he flies from the balcony of his Capitol office got a Pride Month twist. The Democratic U.S. Senate candidate blasted out a fund-raising email to supporters claiming that state employees, acting at the behest of Republicans, had removed a Pride flag from his office balcony, I report.

Gov. Tom Wolf was in Lancaster on Tuesday to push his charter school reform plan. Marley Parish takes a look at the political topography the proposal will have to scale to make it into law.

With the sprint to the June 30 budget deadline already underway, state tax revenues are $3 billion ahead of projections, Stephen Caruso reports.

“Get a shot and have a beer’: President Joe Biden on Wednesday touted free brew, pro sports tickets, and child care to boost vaccination rates, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson reports.

Amid concerns of an increase in violence this summer, members of Philadelphia City Council have rolled out an anti-violence proposal targeted at young people, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Ray Landis considers what other state programs and initiatives could be turned into lotteries now that some states are holding vaccination lotteries. And experts at UPMC tell you what to expect from COVID vaccine side effects and how to deal with them.

(Getty Images)

In Philadelphia, yellow whistles are providing safety and security to the city’s Asian-American residents, the Inquirer reports.
New home and condo sales jumped 25 percent in Pittsburgh during the pandemic, the Post-Gazette reports.
Profits for hospitals plunged during the pandemic’s first wave, PennLive reports.
LancasterOnline has the latest on a deadly home explosion in Mount Joy, Pa.
U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh visited the Lehigh Valley on Wednesday, where he plugged the Biden’s administration’s infrastructure plan, the Morning Call reports.
Walsh also made a stop in NEPA with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., the Citizens’ Voice reports.
A Pennsylvania man charged in the Capitol insurrection is a ‘danger to the community,’ federal authorities say, according to the York Daily Record (paywall).

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by Water Gap Gals (@watergapgals)

WHYY-FM explains how the Philly Medical Examiner’s Office spent 36 years mishandling the remains of MOVE bombing victims.
A bill being prepared for introduction in the state Senate would require state lawmakers to post online how they spend millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded expenses, Spotlight PA and the Caucus report (via WITF-FM).
A new state report takes a look at the financial health of the Erie region’s hospitalsGoErie reports (paywall).
Washington County’s courthouse has lifted its mask mandate for vaccinated individuals, the Observer-Reporter reports.
Roll Call goes deep on the ‘budget pressures’ facing the Pentagon.

Know When to Fold ’em Dept.
The Cut 
tackles the timeless question: Can poker help you win at life?

What Goes On.
9:30 a.m., Salvation Army Allegheny Valley Worship and Service Center, Brackenridge, Pa: House Urban Affairs Committee

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to my old pal and onetime PennLive colleague, James Robinson, of Pennsylvania Senate Democrats, who celebrates today. Congratulations, and enjoy the day, sir.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s three minutes of absolute pop joy from Scottish legends Altered Images. It’s ‘Happy Birthday.’ I defy you not to dance to this one.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Is this Montreal’s year? Sure looked that way on Wednesday night with their 5-3 defeat of Winnipeg in Game 1 of their North Conference final. I’m a Jets fan. But no matter what happens, it would be great if a Canadian team finally made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final this season.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.