COLUMBUS - Backers of a law mandating that larger businesses allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave a year will file petitions today to place the proposal in lawmakers' laps at the start of 2008.
Supporters hope that the Republican-controlled General Assembly will pass the Healthy Families Act rather than risk having it on the November ballot as a potential Democratic wedge issue at a time when Ohio could again be instrumental in choosing the next president.
The state's business community hopes lawmakers will refuse to pass on what they consider to be government intrusion into individual business decisions.
"We're the only one of the 30 most competitive economies that doesn't have this," said Dale Butland, spokesman for the coalition of labor, social service, trial lawyer, and political organizations.
"If it doesn't hurt everybody else's competitiveness, why would it hurt ours?" he asked.
He said the group will file petitions containing about 270,000 signatures with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's office today. Just under 121,000 of those signatures must survive scrutiny as those of registered voters to have the bill waiting for lawmakers after the first of the year.
If the legislature fails to pass a bill acceptable to the proposal's backers by the beginning of May, the group could return to the streets to gather another 121,000 to put the question directly before voters.
If it becomes law, either in the Statehouse or via the ballot box, it would require all employers with at least 25 workers to allow full-time workers to accrue up to seven days' paid sick leave to care for themselves or family members. Part-time workers with less than 30 hours per week would earn a pro-rated amount based on the hours they work.
The measure is designed to supplement existing family-leave law requiring employers to provide unpaid leave.
Ty Pine, Ohio director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said 94 percent of its membership opposes the proposal, despite the fact that the organization's average member has 10 or fewer employees. He said the members believe it would only be a matter of time before the minimum-employee threshold would be lowered.
"They are supportive of the idea of providing leave packages, including paid leave at times, but they are not for government telling them to do so," said Mr. Pine. "Regardless of whether you're talking about wages, health care, or sick leave, resources are limited."
Ohioans are increasingly turning to the initiated-statute process to force legislation action.
The process was successfully used this year by backers of a law further restricting the operations of strip clubs, adult book stores, and other "sexually oriented businesses." The General Assembly gave them most of what they wanted before the four-month deadline for action expired.
In 2006, backers of a statewide ban on smoking in nearly all indoor public places won voter approval of the law after lawmakers opted not to touch it.
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