House committee rejects letting communities establish worker leave mandates

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

A Louisiana House of Representatives committee on Thursday rejected a bill that would have allowed parish and local governments to establish leave policies for workers in their jurisdictions.

As business restrictions meant to control the spread of COVID-19 are loosened and employees are called back to work, guaranteed leave would protect workers from having to do so while sick, risking their own health and potentially making the pandemic worse, supporters said.

Opponents countered the bill could create complications for companies that do business in multiple jurisdictions while putting unfunded mandates on employers at a time when they can least afford it.

Rep. Royce Duplessis, the New Orleans Democrat who authored House Bill 797, said it would give business owners and employees the opportunity to work with the level of government closest to them and develop leave policies that work in their communities. He said he expected only a few parishes would consider mandating worker leave policies.

“I don’t think we would see sweeping changes across the board,” Duplessis said. “This is what my community wants.”

Devante Lewis with the Louisiana Budget Project, which advocates for policies it believes will benefit low- and moderate-income families, said implementing local leave policies could help communities attract tourists who may be wary of traveling because of public health concerns. If potential visitors know workers in a city won’t be forced to come to work while sick, they would be more confident the city is safe to visit, he argued.

Some supporters argue Republicans who support a parish-by-parish approach to lifting business restrictions also should support a similar approach to worker protections. They also cite research suggesting paid sick leave policies can help limit the spread of respiratory infections.

But in arguments similar to the case made last year against letting local jurisdictions establish a local minimum wage, business advocates said the bill could lead to a confusing patchwork of regulations for businesses to navigate. Rep. Mary DuBuisson, R-Slidell, said it could lead to “mind-boggling” complications for business owners.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business spoke against the measure, and several business groups turned in red cards indicating their opposition.

“Small businesses cannot afford new unfunded mandates,” said Dawn Starns with NFIB.

Jim Patterson with LABI said that while government can mandate regulations, it cannot tell businesses how many people they will employ. He said the bill, while not creating new costs in and of itself, could lead to companies cutting jobs.