AUGUSTA — A legislative committee split Wednesday over a bill that aims to ensure more workers in Maine are entitled to paid sick days from work.

Democrats on the Labor and Housing Committee supported a version of the bill that would require businesses with five or more employees to offer paid sick leave to workers who are employed for at least 13 weeks. Republican committee members backed a substantially altered version that would require workers to be on the job longer before qualifying for paid sick leave, excludes minors and allows employers to crack down on those abusing the policy.

In the end, seven committee members supported the most sweeping bill while four Republicans backed their compromise plan. One committee member opposed the bill outright.

Lawmakers heard hours of testimony on the proposal last week, part of a wave of progressive proposals under consideration by a Legislature now controlled by Democrats.

Supporters argued that paid sick leave promotes healthier workplaces, improves employee morale and benefits lower-income Mainers, in particular, because they would no longer fear losing a paycheck or a job for staying home sick or caring for an ill child. Ten other states require companies to offer workers paid sick days.

But dozens of representatives of Maine’s business community turned out to oppose a bill they cautioned would simply add more financial stress to struggling businesses. Some business owners also warned they could be forced to scale back other benefits or wages to cover the costs of offering paid sick leave.

Republican committee members presented a list of 18 amendments on Wednesday that they said would help the bill pass muster with their caucus. But sponsor Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, questioned why they hadn’t brought the detailed proposed changes to a “stakeholders” group aimed at finding compromise.

“So while I am grateful these have come up, I am experiencing some frustration that it is coming up today,” Millett said.

The bill now heads to the full House and Senate for consideration, where lawmakers could consider either version discussed Wednesday or debate other changes to the legislation.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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