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Senate panel kills bill to require paid leave for quarantined employees
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Senate panel kills bill to require paid leave for quarantined employees

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Much to the delight of business groups, a Senate committee killed legislation on Wednesday to require employers to provide up to two weeks of paid sick leave for workers who have to quarantine because of exposure or infection by COVID-19.

The 14-1 vote by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee effectively closes the possibility of passing a sick leave requirement during the special General Assembly session called in part to address the effects of the COVID-19 public health emergency on Virginians. The same committee killed a similar bill earlier in the special session, also by a wide bipartisan margin.

Only Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, voted against the motion to kill House Bill 5116, proposed by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William.

The bill, as adopted by the House last week, would have applied only to businesses with more than 25 employees. It would not have applied to state employees unless federal emergency funding were available to pay for it. The requirement also would have ended with the public health emergency, but no later than July 1, 2021.

"This is not an anti-business bill," Guzman told the committee.

Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, called the legislation "insensitive" to the plight of businesses under severe financial stress because of restrictions on their operations and public fear of contracting the coronavirus during the public health emergency that Gov. Ralph Northam declared on March 12.

"We have no business placing additional stress on our businesses at this period of time," Norment said.

Business groups quickly hailed the committee decision to kill the bill.

"Small businesses are already facing pandemic-related financial burdens and restrictions on their operations, so the last thing they needed is another government mandate that would add costs and reduce their flexibility," said Nicole Riley, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, representing 6,000 small businesses across Virginia.

Riley said businesses do not oppose helping employees affected by COVID-19, but don't support a requirement that would apply to all situations.

"Each business is different, and they need to figure out their own best solution," she said. "Tying their hands behind their back with another one-size-fits-all mandate would have made their economic recovery even more difficult.”

A separate bill to ensure that workers' compensation covers the costs of COVID-19 for infected employees is likely headed to a similar fate. The commerce committee referred House Bill 5028, proposed by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, to the Senate Finance & Appropriations Committee, which already let die without action a similar bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

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