The Oregon House on Friday gave final legislative approval to a controversial bill requiring employers with 10 or more workers to give them up to five paid sick days a year.
The House's action, by a 33-24 vote, came just two days after the Senate passed the bill following a contentious debate that split along partisan lines.
Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign Senate Bill 454, making Oregon the fourth state with a statewide sick leave policy, joining California, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Friday's House action capped a swift 48-hour window during which both chambers, controlled by Democrats, passed a bill that had been parked in a joint committee while objections to the bill were addressed.
Proponents said the final bill won't satisfy everyone, particularly the agriculture industry, but they called for its passage nonetheless as a long-overdue step to help low-wage workers and reduce public health risks.
"This is a policy that's been years in the making," said Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, D-Portland, a chief sponsor of the bill. "Too many Oregon workers have to face that decision of staying home themselves with a sick child or losing a day of pay."
Some 71 percent of low-wage workers in Oregon lack paid sick time, in contrast to higher-income workers who typically have that benefit, proponents said.
"It's time we took a very small step to address income inequality by providing a small measure of job security," said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, who carried the bill as chairman of the House Committee on Business and Labor.
House Republicans criticized the bill as bad for Oregon and another burden being laid on family owned farms and ranches, and small businesses, saying it would increase labor costs and threaten seasonal harvests of perishable crops.
"Of all people who need sick leave, agricultural workers perhaps need it the most," Holvey countered. "Most seasonal laborers won't qualify anyway, he said, because they must have been employed for 20 weeks in the prior year to begin accruing sick days and face a 90-day waiting period before they can use it.
House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, and other Republicans warned that the legislation would have harsh impacts on rural communities, where job growth and household income lag behind urban areas.
"The choices we make today in Salem will have a lasting impact on our state in both good and bad economic times," McLane said in a prepared statement. "Passing this flawed mandate in such a partisan fashion is one of the more troubling choices the Legislature has made this session."
As in the Senate, a motion to return the bill to committee for additional amendments failed, leaving intact recently negotiated language over what size companies should be subject to the bill and whether to allow cities to write their own sick leave laws.
Opponents wanted the legislation to apply to companies with 25 or more employees. As introduced, the bill would have affected all employers, no matter their size, and mandated seven paid sick days. The bill was subsequently amended to five days.
Lawmakers in both parties also sought a provision that would prevent local governments from passing their own sick leave laws, arguing that businesses needed the certainty of a statewide standard rather than a potential patchwork of local laws.
The issue arose after Portland and Eugene passed differing paid sick laws in 2013 and 2014. SB454 leaves Portland's ordinance intact, applicable to employers with six or more employees, but cancels out Eugene's law, which was due to take effect July 1 and would have applied to all employers, regardless of size.
Assuming the governor signs the bill, it would take effect January 1, 2016.
Workers would accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to five days a year, the same as in Portland. Employees could take time off to care for themselves or a family member, or donate it to a co-worker.
Employers that already have paid-time off policy with substantially equivalent benefits could keep their plans.
The bill appropriates $4.4 million to state agencies to implement the new law. Lawmakers said the Bureau of Labor and Industries would hire temporary staff to educate employers and enforce the law, though the bill also contains a one-year grace period from penalties to encourage compliance.
Reps. Brian Clem, D-Salem, and John Lively, D-Springfield, were the only two Democrats who voted no.