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NY lawmakers approve paid sick leave amid coronavirus

A view of the New York state Assembly

A view of the New York state Assembly Chamber before members meet on the opening day of the legislative session at the state Capitol in Albany on Jan. 8. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — In an extraordinary session in an eerily empty State Capitol, state legislators approved bills on paid sick leave and election ballots in the wake of the novel coronavirus.

The sick leave measure addressed access to leave and disability benefits for quarantined individuals. Further, it guarantees paid sick leave not related to the virus, based on the size of the business.

It was approved after Republicans complained the bill contained no end date and could conceivably hurt small businesses long after the pandemic, resulting in the Democratic-led legislature amending the bill to specifically apply to effects of the virus.

“Workers should not be penalized if they receive a quarantine or isolation order,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said after the vote. She said the measure would “ensure every New York employee will be able to continue to receive paychecks, without having to charge their available time if they need to undergo a quarantine or isolation.”

Another measure clarifies an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that halted the petition-gathering process for candidates to qualify for the ballot and reduced by 70% the number of signatures needed. The bill mandates that all signatures be filed with the appropriate board of elections by Friday.

The actions occurred in a Capitol nearly emptied by “social distancing” measures imposed to slow spread of the pandemic.

In the Senate, which has flexible rules about members being in the chamber when bills are called for a vote, just four of the 63 senators sat at their desks, with a colleague at the rostrum, and a handful of staff members spaced around the perimeter, and a few reporters in the back.

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Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said it was a solemn occasion and felt as such: “I feel like I’m in church it’s so quiet.”

The state Assembly approved the measures later Wednesday. The 150-member chamber requires members to be physically present to vote, so members were called in blocks of 12-15 to vote.

 "Groups 1 and 2, report to the chamber to vote," Assemb. Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens), who, as speaker pro tempore, runs the Assembly's daily floor proceedings, would say repeatedly in various forms through the afternoon.

Cuomo Wednesday night signed the sick leave bill into law.

"I just signed into law legislation to provide immediate relief to working New Yorkers whose lives are being turned upside down by COVID-19," Cuomo said in a release Wednesday night.

"No one should have to make the impossible choice between losing their job or providing for their family and going to work, especially during this pandemic," the governor said.

The short-term benefits directly related to the pandemic will vary by size of employer and will differ from those provided outside a quarantine period.

For those subject to quarantine or isolation orders, the bill requires:

  • Businesses with 10 employees or fewer and a net income of less than $1 million to provide job protection during quarantine and guarantee paid family leave and disability benefits. This includes wage replacement for salaries up to $150,000.
  • Businesses with 11-99 employees to provide at least five days of paid sick leave, and access to family leave and disability benefits, as well as wage replacement for salaries up to $150,000.
  • Businesses with 100 or more employees to provide at least 14 days of paid sick leave and job protection.

Outside of quarantines, the legislation also says:

  • Businesses with four workers or fewer and a net income of less than $1 million will provide at least five days of unpaid sick leave annually.
  • Businesses with 5-99 employees (or at least $1 million net income) must provide five days of paid sick leave annually.
  • Businesses with 100 or more employees must provide seven days of paid sick leave annually.

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