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Kaine pushes for mandatory paid sick leave as coronavirus spreads

RICHMOND — Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., wants employers to offer paid sick leave as coronavirus spreads across Virginia and the U.S.

Kaine on Tuesday co-sponsored emergency legislation to give workers paid sick days immediately, citing coronavirus and future public health crises. The proposal comes days after the Virginia legislature killed a similar measure.

“A public health crisis like the coronavirus underscores the urgent need to pass paid sick leave legislation,” Kaine said in a statement. “Workers deserve the flexibility to care for their health without fear of losing a paycheck.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, introduced the bills.

The measure would require all employers to let workers accrue seven sick days, while mandating that employers give employees an extra 14 days during a “public health emergency.” That includes the current coronavirus outbreak.

“This legislation will help ensure that no American has to put their health – and the health of others in their community – at risk to keep their job,” said Kaine, who serves on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The paid leave would cover days for parents when their children’s school is closed, when an employer is closed, or if an employee or their family member is quarantined, all because of a health crisis.

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, only 30% of low-income workers have access to paid sick days.

“The coronavirus is shining a spotlight on an issue that has hurt working people and families for far too long,” said Debra Ness, the partnership’s president. “In a moment of crisis, Congress should not be scrambling to compensate for a lack of basic protections.”

On Sunday, the Virginia state Senate killed a proposal from Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, that would have required public and private employers with 15 or more employees to provide employees with an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work. Senators raised concern with the fiscal impact of the bill and not having money to implement it in the budget lawmakers are to approve Thursday.

Favola cited the coronavirus when pitching Senate Bill 481 to her colleagues, saying: “We’re on the precipice of a real public health crisis.”

The decision to kill the legislation without a vote — the body passed the bill by and didn’t reconsider it before adjourning Sunday afternoon — and in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak drew criticism from advocates.

“Stopping the spread of the flu and the coronavirus is best done by allowing sick people to recover at home,” said Amanda Silcox, coordinator for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy’s Paid Sick Days campaign. “We are concerned that with no paid sick days, workers will show up to work sick and disease will spread across the commonwealth. It’s the job of our legislators to protect public health and they have failed.”

The legislature is likely to take up the idea again next year.

Also Tuesday, Virginia’s other senator, Mark Warner, asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create a short-term plan so people can have access to “necessary” medical products and a long-term plan on reducing U.S. reliance on Chinese- and foreign-made pharmaceutical products and supplies.

Access to those products, such as MRI equipment and the antibiotic Vancomycin, which are primarily made in China, has lessened as the country is ground zero for the coronavirus.

“As the outbreak for COVID-19 has occurred, the risks of our dependence are growing,” Warner said in a letter to the federal agency.


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