RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia Senate committee voted down a bill on Wednesday that would have mandated paid quarantine leave for many workers in the state during the coronavirus pandemic, a measure that passed the House of Delegates last week.
The legislation, introduced by Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman (D-Prince William), would require businesses with more than 25 employees to give two weeks of paid leave to workers who contract COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee voted 14-1 to pass the bill by indefinitely, essentially killing the legislation until next year’s General Assembly session.
In a statement released after the vote, Guzman called the decision from the Democratic-controlled committee “a slap in the face to hardworking Virginians across the Commonwealth,” citing the support of paid sick days from residents in the state and the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“I worked hard to address all the concerns the Committee had with Senator Barbara Favola’s broader paid sick days bill, which I had originally planned to introduce in the House. I significantly pared down the bill to apply only to people with COVID-19,” Guzman’s said in the statement. “There is a sunset. There is an exemption for small businesses. There is an exemption for certain workers to minimize the fiscal impact to the state. I did all this to get a bill that would pass and at least help some people. Yet the Senate still said no, we don’t want anyone to have Paid Quarantine Leave.”
The House approved the legislation last Thursday in a vote largely along party lines, despite some concerns that the bill was “gutted” and left a significant portion of the workforce out. Those opposed to the bill said the unfunded mandate could hurt businesses struggling amid the pandemic.
“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,” Nicole Riley, Virginia director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a statement. “We are very grateful the members of the Senate Committee realized now is not the time to impose additional mandates on small business, especially when this bill would have added another unnecessary layer of bureaucracy because the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Virginia’s new emergency workplace rules already address so many of these issues.”
The measure also would make the paid leave available to employees immediately, despite the length of their tenure. In order to be eligible, the employee must work at least 20 hours a week.
“The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and the statewide Virginians for Paid Sick Days Coalition is disappointed that the Senate Commerce and Labor voted to kill Delegate Guzman’s Paid Quarantine bill that would have required employers with 25 or more workers to provide two weeks of paid quarantine for COVID-19. This bill would have protected workers, businesses and the public only during the pandemic,” Kim Bobo, the executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and a member of Virginians for Paid Sick Days Coalition, said in a statement.
“We are committed to working with Senators and Delegates during the regular session to pass a Paid Sick Day standard that is good for businesses, workers, and Virginia’s economy. More than 83 percent of Virginians support the Commonwealth having a Paid Sick Day standard,” Bobo continued.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.