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Nebraska Legislature kills paid sick leave bill; supporters looking at ballot measure

Nebraska Legislature kills paid sick leave bill; supporters looking at ballot measure

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12-to-15-year-olds are now on the list of those who can get a COVID vaccine.

Supporters of paid sick leave for workers next may turn to Nebraska voters after striking out again in the Legislature.

Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, who introduced LB241, said organizations are exploring the possibility of an initiative petition drive.

Tony Vargas

Tony Vargas

"It's absolutely a possibility," he said.

Such an effort would follow initiative measures that raised Nebraska's minimum wage, expanded Medicaid to more low-income workers and capped interest rates on payday loans. All three issues failed in the Legislature but drew strong support from voters.

Vargas commented Monday after opponents voted down his bill and deep-sixed a pair of compromise amendments. None got more than 19 votes in support, well short of the 25 needed. 

As introduced, the measure would have required employers with four or more employees to provide at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. 

Vargas said the issue is particularly important as Nebraska continues to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. He said 46.3% of Nebraska workers lack paid sick leave, including up to 70% of those working low-wage jobs. 

"This is a policy matter but, I think, also a moral one," he said.

Supporters of LB241 argued that paid sick leave laws passed in other states have improved worker productivity and retention without significant impacts on wages and employment. 

Opponents offered no counter-arguments Monday. Not a single opponent got up to speak during the debate, leaving their votes to do their talking.

At its hearing before the Business and Labor Committee, LB241 faced opposition from a long list of business groups, including the Nebraska, Omaha and Lincoln Chambers of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and groups representing bankers, grocers, retailers and restaurants.

Ron Sedlacek, a lobbyist for the state chamber, said the original bill would have hurt small businesses.

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