Hugh McQuaid photo
Rep. Zeke Zalaski, D-Southington (Hugh McQuaid photo)

At 3 a.m. Saturday, Connecticut was on its way to becoming the first state to mandate paid sick leave to employees of some private companies. The bill passed the House 76 to 65 with 16 Democrats joining Republican colleagues in voting against the measure.

Republicans spent more than 11 hours objecting to paid sick leave, which they argued sends a message that Connecticut is not open for business.

In his closing remarks, Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Connecticut always has been at the forefront of progressive legislation such as paid sick leave. He said Connecticut was the first state to pass a Family Medical Leave Act and the federal government followed a few years later.

Sharkey said the sky didn’t fall after Connecticut passed that legislation, which opponents at the time argued would be bad for business. He said he doesn’t buy the hyperbole that this will make Connecticut a business unfriendly state.

“We don’t make this stuff up,“ Joseph Brennan, vice president of government relations for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said. “We respond to what we hear from our members. It’s not a case of hyperbole.”

Regardless, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he will sign the legislation, which he made part of his campaign platform.

“I’ve said before, this is good public policy and specifically, good public health,“ Malloy said in a statement. “Why would you want to eat food from a sick restaurant cook? Or have your children taken care of by a sick day care worker? The simple answer is – you wouldn’t. And now, you won’t have to.”

The bill was raised in four previous years, but failed to receive a vote in one chamber or the other depending on the year.

This year, in order to win support for the legislation, it was diluted to apply only to service workers, such as retail clerks, waitresses, chefs, and home health care workers at companies with more than 50 employees. Manufacturers and YMCA’s were exempted from the bill.

More than 100 amendments were filed on the legislation, but none were called during debate late Friday and early Saturday. Opponents were ready to continue the debate as long as possible, but supporters were confident they had the votes to make sure Connecticut becomes the first state in the nation to require some paid sick leave.

“I just want to say how proud I am of Connecticut for saying to the nation that we care about our working families,“ House Speaker Chris Donovan said Friday evening.

“We’ll be here as long as it takes,“ Donovan said. “I believe the measure we have here is the right thing to do.”

Until now, only San Francisco and Washington D.C. have mandated paid sick leave. Connecticut will become the first state to do so when Malloy signs the legislation.

“Contrary to the claims of some opponents, San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance hasn’t damaged the city’s reputation as a global hub for business and a destination for entrepreneurship,” said Jon Green, Executive Director of Connecticut Working Families.

The bill passed the Senate by one vote after six hours of debate and with precious little time left in the legislative session the Democrat-controlled House was looking to get it to Malloy’s desk before the clock ran out.