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Commentary: Sick leave

For as long as I can remember, the Republican Party has stood for local control. They don’t like Washington telling the states what to do. When Democrats have been in control in Lansing, they didn’t like the state meddling in local matters. Today, this continues to be true in one sense.

It’s clear that the Republicans running our legislature don’t like the federal government setting health care policy for the states. That’s why they’ve refused for two years to establish a state registry to help match Michiganders who will now need to buy health insurance with various private care providers.

Basically, those running our legislature want to pretend that the Affordable Care Act is going away soon. Never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was fully constitutional. Never mind that the last presidential election was fought largely on that issue, and President Obama was decisively reelected.

They so hate higher levels of government telling lower levels what to do, that they refused to create a health care registry, even though this means that Washington will create one for us anyway, and we will lose millions as a result.

Well, you might figure that if the Republicans believe this that strongly, they’d be against meddling with employment policies set by local units of government.  But you’d be wrong. At least, that is, when it comes to benefits for workers.

There are bills working their way through the legislature that would ban cities from requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. Last week the state senate approved such a bill, and another is coming up for a vote in the House. If one passes and is signed into law by the governor, it will be illegal for any city to tell any employer they have to give paid sick leave to their workers.

I’m not sure even Ebenezer Scrooge would have thought of that. I’m sure he wouldn’t have given Bob Cratchit sick leave, but Scrooge probably wouldn’t have dreamed of telling a competitor how to treat his workers.

This is not unique to Michigan; ALEC, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, has been pushing anti-sick leave legislation across the nation, especially since Portland and Philadelphia enacted policies guaranteeing sick leave.

State Representative Gretchen Driskell of Saline thinks this is just awful. In a recent column in her hometown paper, she wrote, “As a former mayor, I believe that local governments know best how to meet community health issues.”

She noted that more than a million and a half Michigan workers have no sick leave, and added, “This becomes a public health issue when sick employees come to work or have to bring their sick children to day care.

My guess is those arguments won’t faze the ideologues one bit. You have to wonder, however, how long it will be before years of gleeful bashing of people desperately trying to work for a living will have a negative political impact on Republicans in this state.

That is, if they ever want to go further than a gerrymandered term-limited legislative seat. They might want to ask Mitt Romney how sneering at the “47 percent” worked out for him.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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