With no negotiated limits on debate, House to tackle paid sick days

The General Assembly is staggering toward the final weekend of the 2011 legislative session with unfinished business that includes the nation’s first state mandate on private companies to offer paid sick days. Debate began this afternoon.

Ten days after the Senate passed the bill by a single vote, the House of Representatives today opened today opened debate on paid sick days that could stretch into the weekend.

The business community stepped up lobbying pressure throughout the week, a last-ditch, long-shot attempt to stop final passage of a bill endorsed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden.

In the Senate, major legislation awaiting action includes an overhaul of how the state regulates electricity, which has to go through both chambers, and a final vote on a bill outlawing discrimination of transgendered individuals.

Donovan and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, met privately Thursday to discuss what form the debate might take for the most controversial bill in a contentious session: paid sick days.

They negotiated no limits on debate, leaving the Republican minority free to talk as long as they desire on the bill that Cafero says is one of the state’s most ill-timed intrusions into the world of business.

“We’re going to make our points,” Cafero said. “It’s the highlighted bill of the session.”

Donovan said he is expecting a long debate on a bill that his labor allies say would be a long-awaited victory for low-wage workers.

The bill, which is expected to pass the House despite strong Republican opposition, requires many companies with 50 or more employees to give one hour of sick time for every 40 hours of work, up to a maximum of five days a year. It would be effective Jan. 1.

An employer could count vacation time, personal days and any other paid time off against the requirement. Seasonal and temporary workers are not covered.

Cafero said he asked Malloy to delay passage until next year as a gesture to a business community reeling from a tax increase and the lingering effects of a recession. The governor declined, he said.

The GOP leader said he told Malloy, who took office in January, that he has won every key issue in his first session.

“It’s like you’re up 20 to nothing, and you want to run up the score,” Cafero said of Malloy as midnight approached Thursday. “The answer was no. We want it all, and we want it now.”

Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior adviser, said the governor had no recollection of Cafero making such a request, but if he had, the answer would have been no.

“He’s not running up the score. He’s pursuing an agenda that he believes is the right one for Connecticut,” Occhiogrosso said.

Cafero declined to say how long the Republican minority might debate the bill.

“It’s going to be multiple hours – and possibly multiple days,” said Joseph Brennan, the vice president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

Jon Green, the director of the Working Families Party, declined to predict how soon the bill would come to a vote. The House is scheduled to meet at noon, though Donovan has not committed to begin debate at the start of the session.

The House and Senate are each expected to work late tonight and return for a weekend session Saturday.

The legislature’s constitutional deadline for adjournment is midnight Wednesday, when Malloy will have an opportunity to address a joint session of the House and Senate if he wishes.