Virginia delegate tries again to advance paid sick leave bill

Delegate fighting for paid sick leave bill
Del. Elizabeth Guzman
Posted at 5:29 PM, Jan 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-30 17:30:03-05

RICHMOND,Va. -- A Virginia House of Delegates committee advanced a measure into appropriations that would provide some essential workers with paid sick leave.

House Bill 2137, introduced by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Woodbridge, reported out of the House Labor and Commerce committee Thursday in a 13-8 vote along party lines.

This is Guzman’s latest effort to pass a paid sick leave bill. Guzman’s previous legislation died in a Senate committee during the Virginia General Assembly special session held last year.

Employees would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, according to the bill. Businesses would be required to allow employees to start earning paid sick hours immediately upon hiring. Paid sick leave can be carried over to the following year.

Employees eligible for paid sick leave include first responders, educators and retail workers.

Supporters and opponents continue to share similar praises and concerns they had with Guzman’s previous paid sick leave bill. The delegate said she made the bill broader this session based on feedback she received from legislators.

Representatives from the Virginia Poultry and Virginia Retail federations cited concerns of additional business regulation and costs. Concerns were also raised about the broad terms of the bill’s hardship waiver, which would allow businesses to opt-out of offering paid sick leave to employees if they can prove doing so would jeopardize business.

“It's difficult to say at this time if the hardship waiver would be beneficial for an employer since it leaves broad direction to the department and the standing offices,” Jodi Roth, a lobbyist with the Virginia Retail Federation, said during the bill’s hearing.

Guzman said she intends for the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, or DOLI, to provide more specific guidelines for opting-out once the bill is passed. The bill requires businesses to provide “evidence demonstrating that providing paid sick leave threatens the financial viability of the employer” in order to opt-out.

Last year the General Assembly voted to incrementally increase Virginia’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. The first minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour will occur on May 1.

The bill would cost DOLI roughly $420,000 for the 2022 fiscal year, and then roughly $320,000 per year onward, according to the bill’s impact statement.

Kim Bobo, the executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center of Public Policy, said during the subcommittee hearing that the organization remains in favor of the bill.

“It will allow us over time to demonstrate that a paid sick day standard is not a hardship for business, but rather an essential benefit that should be available to all workers,” Bobo said.

The organization is a non-partisan coalition of all faiths that is focused on justice reform, according to its website. The organization strongly supported Guzman’s previous paid sick day bill during the 2020 special session.

“Certainly, we in Virginia want to say, ‘paid sick day is a standard,’” Bobo said.

This is the fourth paid leave bill Guzman has brought before the House since 2018, according to legislative records.

“This is a priority for the House Democratic Caucus,” Guzman said. “We definitely have 55 or 54 votes.”

Guzman’s bill was referred to a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

By Zachary Klosko

Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.