Senate Democrats pass paid sick leave bill

A measure that would mandate five paid sick days a year heads to the House after passing the Senate on a partisan vote.

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A measure that would mandate five paid sick days a year heads to the House after passing the Senate on a partisan vote.

The final vote on Senate Bill 454 was 17-13 with one Democrat joining the 12 Republicans fighting the measure. It now heads to the House. California, Connecticut and Massachusetts already have similar laws on the books.

“This is a historic day for workers in Oregon. Senate Bill 454 was a key priority for Senate Democrats heading into 2015 and it is not an exaggeration to say that Paid Sick Leave is the most important policy we will advance this legislative session,” said Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland) in a news release. “Working people shouldn’t be forced to choose between their jobs and their health.  With this statewide paid sick time policy, Oregon workers won’t have to put their co-workers, their customers, and their children at risk.”

Labor and community activists, joined by several Democratic lawmakers, pressed for a statewide law after Portland and Eugene passed their own city ordinances in 2013 and 2014. But the bill stalled in recent weeks as lawmakers argued over what size companies should be subject to the bill and whether to allow cities to write their own sick leave laws. With prospects of an increase in the state’s minimum wage still uncertain as the Legislature heads into its final weeks, the stakes around paid sick leave ramped up, stirring familiar arguments between worker and employer advocates.

During nearly two hours of floor debate, Democrats hailed SB454 as extending a basic employment benefit to nearly all, especially low-income workers, while Republicans warned it would backfire, causing employers to cut jobs, reduce workers’ pay and other benefits, and stunt hiring: “Some single moms are going to lose their jobs,” said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “Don’t fool yourselves.”


“If you are a higher-wage worker in this state, then you almost certainly have the ability to take time off from work in order to care for yourself or your children when the need arises,” Senator Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), chair of the Senate Workforce Committee and co-carrier of the bill, said in a news release.   “However, if you are a low-wage worker, you are in the exact opposite situation—80 percent of low-wage workers get no paid leave at all.  This is one of the most striking examples of inequity that we face. Today we take a huge step toward addressing this injustice toward working families.”

In another partisan vote, this one in the House, Democrats passed a bill that would create a state-sponsored retirement plan.

It passed 33-26 with only Democrats voting for the affirmative.

Under House Bill 2960, employers who don’t provide retirement plans would have to automatically deduct a still-undetermined percentage of their employees’ paychecks to put into the state plan for them. Employers would not be required to contribute any funds to the plan, and workers could opt out if they wanted. The state would manage the plan through a new board, chaired by the state treasurer, and the funds would be invested by a third-party firm, with no guarantee on investment returns. Workers could take their savings account from one job to another within Oregon.

Workers can already put their own money in a variety of retirement savings plans available on the private market­place. But backers say HB 2960 and its automatic enrollment feature will help encourage more saving. Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, said only 4.6 percent of Oregonians now establish retirement savings accounts if they aren’t offered one through an employer. As a result, many workers have little savings and must rely on federal Social Security and government assistance programs when they stop working, he said.

(SOURCE: Register-Guard)

House Minority Leader Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte) expressed concern about the measure.

“People in Oregon aren’t saving enough for retirement because they aren’t making enough money,” said House Republican Leader Mike McLane, a Powell Butte Republican, in a news release. “Just weeks after Democrats proposed a bill to keep the kicker, today, they stand to propose another mandate, another forced choice, which says that the government knows best when it comes to your money. We want to be able to raise the income of Oregonians because we have a government that partners with our communities and businesses, not against them.”


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