Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) blocked an attempt by Senate Democrats to quickly pass legislation on Wednesday that would require employers to provide paid sick leave.
The issue of paid sick leave has jumped into the spotlight amid growing concerns about a coronavirus outbreak within the United States. Individuals exposed to the virus are being recommended to quarantine for at least two weeks.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) created legislation that would require employers give workers 14 days of paid sick leave during public health emergencies. She tried to get unanimous consent on the legislation on Wednesday, which would have it bypass a vote, but Alexander said he could not support the bill.
Under the Senate’s rules, any one senator can try to set up a vote, or pass a bill by unanimous consent. But any one senator can also object to that request.
“The idea of paid sick leave is a good idea. But if Washington, D.C., thinks it’s a good idea, Washington, D.C., should pay for it,” Alexander, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said from the Senate floor.
“It’s not a cure for the coronavirus to put a big new expensive federal mandate on employers who are struggling in the middle of this matter,” Alexander said.
The GOP chairman said while he could not support the bill, he was willing to work with Murray – the top Democrat on the HELP Committee – to combat the coronavirus.
Democrats are pushing for new paid sick leave measures as an effort to try to prevent the spread of the virus. They worry that without paid sick leave, employees will try to come to work sick.
Murray’s state has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus. More than 260 cases have been reported from the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our primary goal right now, for people in my home state and across the country, needs to be slowing the spread of the virus in areas where there are outbreaks, so areas where it hasn’t hit so hard yet have time to prepare,” Murray said Wednesday.
“One of the best ways we can do this is by allowing workers who feel sick — or who need to stay home with a child whose school is closed — to do so without losing a paycheck or a job,” she added.