A bill that would require Iowa businesses to provide paid sick leave for some part-time workers is scheduled for debate in a Senate committee today. If the legislation as currently written becomes law, businesses would have to provide sick leave to employees who work at least 20 hours a week. Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, says it’s a public health issue.

“It’s bad enough that we’re fairly low pay in this state, but we can’t even get off that low pay job when we’re sick,” Courtney says. Business groups are adamantly opposed to the proposal. John Gilliland (GIHL-uh-lund), chief lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, says when word spread about this bill, he was deluged with email from many of the group’s members.

“The consistent theme in every one of these communications is that nobody knows less about running a small business than state government,” he says. Senator Courtney, the bill’s sponsor, says he’s willing to compromise to make the bill more palatable, like not applying the sick leave requirement to small businesses with 10 or fewer employees. At a subcommittee meeting Wednesday, Courtney spoke directly to the business groups.

“None of you have given me any ideas,” Courtney said. “It’s easy for majority Democrats to sign off on this thing and take it to the floor and ram it through. I’d rather have some help from the folks here.” Senator Ron Wieck, a Republican from Sioux City, says the sick leave requirement could be the last straw for some small businesses.

“I don’t think we need more government right now. We got an economy that’s got problems,” Wieck says. “Pushing businesses around, I don’t think now’s the time to do it.” The Iowa Restaurant Association and Iowa Grocery Association oppose the bill, while labor groups support it. The measure is also backed by the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Their lobbyist says the bill would allow women to take a “sick day” from work so they could leave an abusive spouse.