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Key Republican Flips On Allegheny County’s Paid Sick Time Bill, Setting It Up For Sept. 14 Vote

Jared Murphy
90.5 WESA
Republican Cindy Kirk, who chairs Allegheny County Council's health and human services committee, says she has scheduled a committee vote on a proposed paid sick leave requirement for Sept. 8. That plan would set the legislation up for a final vote Sept. 14, when the full council next meets.

After an earlier paid sick leave proposal languished for nearly a year in an Allegheny County Council committee, the head of that panel says she now supports the policy, and will move quickly to pass a new version of it.

Health and human services committee chair Cindy Kirk, a Republican, said she has already scheduled a committee vote on the new sick time measure for next Wednesday, Sept. 8. The bill is then set to return to the full council for a final vote Sept. 14.

The new bill, which was crafted by the county Board of Health and requires council approval, would require businesses with more than 25 employees to provide up to five paid sick days a year to full-time workers.

In March, Kirk had opposed a similar proposal that was drafted by her fellow councilors. But “at this point,” she said, “I do feel we have a good compromise bill.”

Supporters of the new measure had sought to fast-track it Tuesday night, a process that would bypass a committee review entirely and put the matter up for an immediate vote. But Kirk's support suggests the delay will be brief, especially in comparison to the protracted months-long committee debate she presided over after the first measure was proposed.

Kirk says she is pleased that the legislation would limit the sick leave requirement to firms with 26 or more employees. She said that provision will help to support small businesses that would struggle to cover the cost of paid sick time. But the bill does not include other restrictions that Kirk had advanced earlier this year, such as one that would have excluded unionized workers, temporary employees, and substitute teachers from the mandate.

The Board of Health's proposal largely mirrors the paid sick days bill that council overwhelmingly approved in March. Fitzgerald vetoed that measure, however, citing a state law that prevents council from adopting health regulations without prior approval from the health board.

In July, the board unanimously passed its own paid sick leave rules. And even though they hardly differ from the bill that Fitzgerald vetoed, Kirk said the board’s approval was critical to changing her mind.

Regarding council’s original bill, Kirk said, “I didn't feel comfortable passing something that was questionable when I knew [that] in just a few months we could get it how it should be to pass legal muster.”

“So even though it's very identical [to council’s earlier proposal], it's now much more secure and we can get it going,” she said. “I'd hate to have businesses make changes and adjustments [in response to the previous legislation] and then have a legal challenge and then they have to stop. I’m just trying to make it easy for people as we add these requirements and regulations on.”

Kirk noted that council itself cannot alter the health board’s proposal: It can only vote to approve or reject it.

“I would make changes if I [could],” she said. “I think it's a compromise. No one's going to be 100 percent happy with it. … And my assumption is that it will pass just because I think people are eager to get this going, because we've done all the work for the last year.”

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.