House Lawmakers Pass Controversial Paid Sick Leave Bill

After a high-pitched, high-stakes, 11-hour debate, state legislators early Saturday morning approved a controversial bill to make Connecticut the first state in the nation to mandate paid sick leave for service companies with 50 or more workers.

In a vote at about 3 a.m., the House voted 76 to 65 on the overall bill. About a dozen fiscally conservative Democrats, including Linda Schofield of Simsbury, Richard Roy of Milford, and Frank Nicastro of Bristol, broke with their party and voted with the Republicans against the measure that applies only to hourly workers.

Following a marathon day that went through the night, the House adjourned shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday. They plan to return to the historic Hall of the House at noon Saturday - less than nine hours away.

The controversial proposal had been significantly diluted from earlier versions, but opponents still raised familiar objections and roundly denounced the measure as a job-killer at a time when the unemployment rate is above 9 percent.

Democrats hailed the bill as a historic breakthrough for workers, while Republicans said it would be a deep blow for businesses that are struggling to make profits as the national economy remains sluggish.

Manufacturing firms and nationally chartered nonprofit organizations like the YMCA would be exempt, and the bill also would not cover day laborers, independent contractors and temporary workers. Unlike in its previous incarnations, the bill now applies only to service workers who receive an hourly wage — a broad category that would cover an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 waiters, waitresses, cashiers, crossing guards, fast-food cooks, hairstylists, security guards, nursing home aides and others. Any disputes over which workers might be covered would be settled by the state Department of Labor.

"It's a historic moment,'' said House Speaker Christopher Donovan. "A lot of businesses already know it's the right thing to do. It's not a big cost for business. … I think a lot of people in America are actually shocked to hear that there are people that don't have sick leave, and I also mean no vacation time, no personal days, no leave at all, no option when someone gets sick in their house.''