Proponents of a bill that allows employees to earn up to five paid sick days per year held a press conference at the Capitol Wednesday, the same day as more than a couple hundred business leaders from around the state gathered to talk about job growth. 

As proponents of the bill talked about how it’s actually good for business and public health, opponents of the legislation said it was an “anti-business” bill that will drive more companies out of the state.

“This bill has been worked out over time and in my view is a common sense approach to a desperate situation,” Sen. John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield, said Wednesday. Kissel has been one of the only Republicans in the past to support the proposal, which puts him in direct conflict with his party’s leadership. 

“This is a job killing bill,” Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, said Wednesday.

In a year when everyone agrees job growth and job creation is the most important issue facing the state, Democrats are introducing “unfriendly business mandates,” he said.

This is the fourth year the bill has been proposed.

This year’s bill addresses employers with 50 or more employees, so it carves out small businesses, Kissel said. And it‘s not cumulative, so you can’t carry the days over from one year to another.

“It’s not going to drive businesses away,” Kissel said.

Sen. Edith Prague, chairwoman of the Labor Committee and the bill’s main proponent, agreed.

Holding up an article from Forbes magazine, Prague said it costs employers $180 billion a year in 2007 by not giving their employees paid sick time. “Besides that when workers go to work sick are they productive, can they do their job? I don’t think so,” Prague said.

“Folks who say paid sick time is going to chase businesses out of this state really don’t have any facts to back that up,” Prague said.

Wanda Cobbs, a West Hartford school bus driver, knows all to well what it’s like to go to work sick. Last December her son and daughter got H1N1 and she was forced to take time off work to care for them. In the process she was infected with H1N1, but couldn’t afford to take any more time off, so she went to work sick.

“For more than a week I drove a school bus while I suffered from swine flu,” Cobbs said. None of the kids on her bus caught the flu from her, but Cobbs believes “nobody should have to go to work sick.”

Rep. Selim Noujaim, a Republican from Waterbury, said over the past 10 years he’s seen 18 companies he used to do business with move or go out of business.

He said paid sick days is harmful to employees, not employers, because it’s the employees who will lose their jobs if the legislature passes this bill.

“Another mandate on employers means they will no longer be able to operate in the state,” Noujaim said.

And while the bill may apply only to companies with 50 or more employees, Noujaim doesn’t think it would be long before it applied to other small businesses.

But Kissel warned it’s also a public health issue.

According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research 8 million Americans went to work with H1N1 last year and an estimated 7 million people caught H1N1 from a co-worker.

When asked what they believe will help them get the bill passed this year, Prague said the H1N1 epidemic. She said the epidemic showed that not everyone has the ability to stay home from work when they are sick.

“ I think our school bus driver said it all,” Prague said.