November 03, 2014

Oh sure, some of you think Charlie Baker is dreamy, are drawn in by Martha Coakley, or still hold a flame for Deval.  Not me.  This scholar of public policy has a crush on whoever wrote Massachusetts Ballot Issue 4 on paid sick leave.  I’m sure I could find out who he or she is but that runs the risk of finding out they're married.  So for now, I’ll keep my crush on the writer of Issue 4 much like I did my childhood crushes on Donnie Wahlberg and Tom Brokow:  unrequited.

Why this love for Issue 4?  It is simply an incredibly well-written piece of legislation.  In the classroom, we call the writing of legislation policy formulation.  And the vast majority of legislation crafted does not become lawPartisanship, agenda-space, the sheer number of veto-points in American public policy make this the reality and it is actually advantageous to be more vague in policy formulation as that makes the policy easier to pass – if highly susceptible to biases and mission drift in implementation.  Vague legislation avoids conflict by not making it apparent to parties supporting it that they might, in fact, disagree.

Massachusetts Ballot Issue 4 bucks these trends.  As tomorrow’s voters are surely checking into, a “yes” vote provides workers in public and private Massachusetts companies employing over 11 workers the ability to earn paid sick time.  I know what some of you are thinking – what about small businesses?  Is this another handout?  Can they afford it?  And this is the way things normally breakdown/get framed on healthcare, sick leave, and related issues:  labor and women’s groups v. small businesses.

But my dream date legislation buttresses against the divides and clearly understands public opinion on social welfare benefits.  Employees earn sick leave and do so with a very reasonable set of conditions that are hard for businesses to label as outlandish.  And, while not ideal in several facets from labor’s perspective, Issue 4 does provide for paid-sick leave at the bottom ends of the economic ladder. But employees only begin to earn sick leave after being on the job for 90 days and they then earn paid-sick leave at the rate of 1 hour per every 30 hours worked.  Brilliant!  Once accrued, employees can carry over up to 40 hours each calendar year but can also only use 40 of their earned hours each year.  And to earn that 40 hours they would have had to work at least 1200 hours with the company (beyond their initial 90 days).

Are you crushing too?  Women disproportionately work the low-wage jobs most apt to be affected if Issue 4 passes and they are also more likely to need sick-time to care for themselves or family members.  And, for those of us who benefit from their labor, this means we need not receive food items and other services from someone who should be home recuperating – not spreading their cold or flu.  But, without pad sick-time, low-wage economies do not allow for the individual to take time off for fear or both reprisal and not making rent.  With this paid sick leave, employee and customers thus benefit.  Just as importantly, employers – especially small businesses – are not pillaged with what amounts to an unfunded mandate with Issue 4.  The time is earned after substantial work is put in and the wage rate is at the employee’s normal wage. 

So, Issue 4 dream-date writer, your approach to paid sick leave is downright sexy to those of us who study public policy.  It brings labor, women’s groups and fiscal conservatives together by meaningfully mitigating the concerns of those who find the “cost to small businesses” argument compelling.

Most of the ballot issues at stake tomorrow in Massachusetts cannot claim this ingenuity.  Indeed with Issue 2 (bottle bill) and Issue 3 (casinos), we see the distance between what progressive era reformers wanted when they experimented in direct democracy and the way modern application regularly amplifies the voice of the moneyed.  On Issue 3, for example, casino money has dropped 6.2 million on the race while anti-casino (repeal efforts) have spent 415k .  Public opinion has followed they money.

And that, Issue 4 writer, is why I love you: smart legislation written to bring constituencies together that regularly find themselves on opposing sides.

Call me. 

mapoli, issue 4, ballot issues

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