Rhode Island Democrats push to guarantee paid sick days

A group of Rhode Island lawmakers has kicked off a campaign to make their state the next to guarantee paid sick days.

The Democratic legislators want Rhode Island to join its neighboring states in requiring private sector employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, arguing that mandatory leave provides security for lower-income hourly workers and helps curb the spread of disease.

Connecticut in 2011 was the first state to guarantee paid sick leave, followed by California, Massachusetts and Oregon. Vermont enacted a mandatory sick leave measure that took effect last month. Voters in Arizona and Washington approved similar measures in November's election that haven't yet taken effect. Several cities also guarantee sick leave.

Some business groups have argued that the mandates overburden employers.

Vermont's new law was commended last year by then-President Barack Obama, who urged other states to follow its lead and called on Congress "to help us catch up with other advanced nations and provide this basic security to all Americans." Republican President Donald Trump has proposed guaranteeing six weeks of paid maternity leave for mothers who give birth, but hasn't addressed sick leave.

Rhode Island state Sen. Maryellen Goodwin and Rep. Aaron Regunberg, both Providence Democrats, announced this week that they are introducing companion bills in the Senate and House, both controlled by Democrats. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has named guaranteeing paid sick days as a priority this year.

The lawmakers' proposals would give workers up to seven paid sick days to care for their own health or a family member's health. The legislators point to data showing about 40 percent of the state's private sector workers lack paid sick days. Their bills would also cover domestic violence victims who want to use the earned time off for "safe time" to get help.

The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce opposed a similar bill that stalled last year. The business group said it can't comment on this year's bill because it hasn't seen it yet.