Local legislators are lining up against a bill that would require businesses to provide paid sick leave for workers.

LD 1665, titled “An act to prevent the spread of H1N1,” is sponsored by state Senate president and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Elizabeth Mitchell of Vassalboro.

The bill requires a business with 25 or more employees to give a maximum of 52 accrued hours of paid sick leave per year to any employee and requires a business with fewer than 25 workers to give a maximum of 26 accrued paid sick leave hours per year to any employee.

A public hearing was scheduled for Jan. 14 before the Legislature’s Labor Committee.

Paid sick leave would be accrued from the first day of employment and could be used on the 90th day and thereafter. Earned paid sick leave may be used by an employee during an absence from employment due to the illness of an employee or illness of an employee’s family member, if the employee’s place of business is closed due to a public health emergency, if an employee needs to care for a dependent whose school or place of care has been closed due to a public health emergency, for the purpose of an employee accessing necessary preventive health care or an employee’s family member accessing necessary preventive health care, or due to the employee or the employee’s family member being a victim of stalking, domestic violence or sexual abuse.

Rep. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, said while such a benefit may be desirable the law is not a good proposal.

“If the state of Maine becomes the first state in the nation to mandate such a benefit, it forces businesses and their employees to accept that benefit regardless of their choice,” Rector said. “By forcing that decision by mandate, either other benefits are reduced or eliminated (for instance, higher co-pays on health insurance, reduced vacation time, fewer holidays) or wages are reduced or not increased in the future to pay for that benefit.”

“Additionally, by such a mandate, we would further weaken an already fragile business climate, diminish the number of new and existing jobs available for willing Maine workers, increase the cost of products and services in Maine and make retention of existing businesses and recruitment of new business even more challenging than the current economic conditions create,” the first-term state senator said. “I oppose any effort by the state of Maine to increase the burdens on our struggling business community at a time when the naturally occurring economic challenges are as difficult as they have been in our lifetime.”

State Sen. A. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, also voiced opposition to the bill.

“With our economy in a free fall it seems a very bad time to mandate a significant new cost on Maine businesses,” Trahan said. “If the spread of illness is the reason for the bill, then we should better educate both employers and employees on how to identify and reduce the risk of spreading illness.”

Rep. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland, said he wanted to hear the testimony at the public hearing before making up his mind. He said he wanted to know what the costs would be to businesses.

Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, said he too would oppose the bill.

“While I appreciate the intent of the bill, I don’t think it’s workable for small- and medium- sized businesses,” Kruger said. “I expect to oppose it.”

Rep. Andrew O’Brien, D-Lincolnville, said he was undecided.

“When I came down with flu-like symptoms a few months ago, my employer told me to stay home for fear that I could be contagious,” O’Brien said. “I don’t believe that anyone should risk losing their job or livelihood because of illness. It’s a public health issue. However, I have not read this bill carefully, so I can’t take a position on it at this time.”

The Maine Women’s Lobby has voiced support for the measure.

“While everyone gets sick, not everyone has the chance to get well,” said Charlotte Warren of the Maine Women’s Lobby in a news release. “Right now, more than 200,000 Maine workers lack even a single paid sick day from work.”

The organization said businesses would save money. The projected savings would come through a combination of reducing worker turnover, cutting down on the spread of disease at work and helping employers avoid paying for low productivity.

The Maine Chamber of Commerce has voiced strong opposition to the bill. The Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce sent out an e-mail alert to its members about the bill.