When Sen. Pat Spearman asked attendees at the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor meeting Thursday if anyone wanted to speak in opposition to the paid sick leave bill, she was met with silence in both Carson City and Las Vegas.
Spearman, who chairs the committee, joked with noticeable relief: “And the heavens opened up…”
That nobody spoke in opposition to the paid sick leave bill speaks not to divine intervention but to extensive behind-the-scenes “stakeholder engagement” that led to a significant conceptual amendment introduced and unanimously passed by the committee Thursday.
The new SB 312 mandates that private sector employees at businesses with 50 or more employees earn a total of 40 hours (five days) of paid leave annually. This is a departure from the bill as introduced, which had employees accruing paid sick time at a specific hourly rate and applied to any private employer with 25 or more employees.
The original bill allowed businesses to limit the amount of paid sick time an employee could use to 24 hours (three days) per year. The amended version bumps that limit to 40 hours (five days) per year.
The amended paid sick leave bill does away with the concept of “paid sick leave” altogether and replaces it with “paid time off.” An employee would not have to provide a reason — or medical documentation — about their planned absence. This means they could use the day for themselves, or to take care of other family members who are ill.
This series of amendments was enough to satisfy several chambers of commerce and industries that might otherwise have opposed the paid sick leave bill.
The Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce supported the amended bill. CEO Ann Silver told the committee that 75 percent of their members are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees — meaning the amended paid sick leave bill would largely not apply to them.
Most other chambers of commerce and industries that spoke took a neutral position on the bill. This included the Las Vegas Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Henderson Chamber of Commerce and Nevada Restaurant Association. A lobbyist for the Nevada Resorts Association said the association was neutral only because it seeks clarified language within the amendments.
“None of those things are insurmountable,” the lobbyist added. “We believe we’ll get there shortly.”
Most of those organizations opposed a 2017 paid sick leave bill that largely mirrored this session’s original paid sick leave bill. The 2017 paid sick leave bill passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval over a perceived “substantial cost to businesses, particularly small businesses.”
In support of paid sick leave were various workers rights and public health advocacy groups. (It’s also worth noting that not all small businesses are against paid sick time.) Supporters peppered their testimony with heart-wrenching stories of workers forced to choose between prioritizing their health or their paycheck.
Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, the bill sponsor, noted that 90 percent of food workers said they have gone to work sick, and almost half of them admitted to doing so “always” or “frequently.” She and others framed it as a public health issue, noting that one or two sick children sent to school sick can cause a domino effect that leads entire classrooms and schools to be shut down over illness, which leads to sick parents and caregivers too.
Advocacy groups typically recommend a minimum of 56 hours, or seven days, of paid sick days annually. While the amended bill does not meet that standard, the 40 hours (five days) it does allow for would still bring some relief to the estimated 40 percent of Nevada’s private sector workers who currently receive zero paid sick days.
A few advocates expressed their desire for the Legislature to exempt only those businesses that have fewer than 25 employees, rather than businesses that have fewer than 50. They noted that the 50-employee limit leaves 192,000 employees excluded from having paid sick leave.
The 50-employee limit puts the proposed policy in line with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which protects workers positions while they take unpaid leave. FMLA only applies to businesses with 50 or more employees.