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Bluegrass Beacon: Some government distancing, anyone?

Some politically leftist groups and their enablers in Congress and the Kentucky legislature are seizing upon former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s advice to “never let a serious crisis go to waste” offered during last decade’s Great Recession to push for costly policies that will outlast the coronavirus and hinder economic recovery across the country and in our commonwealth.

Big-government progressives for years have pushed policies that would force employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees.

Louisville Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey has decided to follow Emanuel’s advice and his political soulmates in Congress by filing a bill that forces all Kentucky businesses with at least 10 employees to offer paid sick days even though 60% of the commonwealth’s private-sector employers already offer sick-leave options.

McGarvey says he intends to incentivize workers sick with the coronavirus to stay home rather than choose between showing up for work and spreading the illness or financial hardship.

However, the fact that McGarvey’s mandate would be permanent indicates his legislation is also about using a crisis to push a long-time item on political leftists’ ideological agenda.

It’s the same in Congress, where Democratic Sen. Patty Murray tried, but failed, to pass a bill mandating all employers nationwide provide at least 14 days of sick leave pay.

Murray’s been advocating for this policy since 2004 – long before the coronavirus showed up.

Fortunately, Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander blocked Murray’s attempt by contending that the proposal would be an unfair – and unfunded – mandate on employers already struggling to deal with the virus’ economic fallout.

“If Washington, D.C., thinks it’s a good idea, Washington, D.C., should pay for it,” Alexander said on the Senate floor.

Likewise, if Frankfort wants it, let state lawmakers find the money from an already-tight budget to reimburse employers for sick-leave checks to workers.

While touting his sick-leave bill on KET’s “Kentucky Tonight,” where panelists sat six feet apart in deference to health officials’ recommended social-distancing protocol regarding the coronavirus – McGarvey expressed little concern about how his mandate would affect employers, a majority of whom operate small businesses.

Yet passing bills like his would make it harder for those same employers to recover from the economic fallout of the current health crisis since neither his nor Murray’s paid sick-leave requirements would go away when the virus does.

Making this a permanent mandate on all employers – rather than allowing each business owner to voluntarily decide the best approach for their operation – will discourage them from rehiring laid-off workers when the clouds lift and the economic sun reappears.

That’s what happened in San Francisco, the nation’s first city to require employer-paid sick leave in 2007.A 2011 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported the city’s lowest wage-earners bore the brunt of the policy’s unintended consequences through reduced hours and layoffs since businesses couldn’t raise prices high enough to both keep their doors open and make government-mandated sick-leave payments.

If, as Murray supposes, paid-leave policies would prevent the spread of disease, why does her state of Washington along with California offer the nation’s highest concentration of coronavirus cases?

For McGarvey to even suggest such a mandate in Kentucky during this time when Gov. Beshear has ordered many businesses, including restaurants – which skate on very thin profit margins – to shut down in an attempt to force Kentuckians to practice social distancing represents piling-on of employers at its worst.

“If there is no money coming in, how do they write checks?” Kentucky Restaurant Association CEO Stacy Roof asked WDRB.

Perhaps a healthy dose of government distancing added to the protocol would help the commonwealth more effectively deal with – then recover quickly from – the coronavirus.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free market think tank.

The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being published by newspapers statewide.

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