RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A bill that would have mandated paid sick leave for a range of essential workers cleared a key Senate committee Monday, but only after it was sharply whittled down to cover only certain home health care workers.

The original House bill would have required paid sick leave for grocery store workers, prison personnel, child care providers, farmworkers, poultry workers and others. An amendment by Senate Democrats who did not want to impose such a mandate on private businesses limited the bill to cover only home health care workers serving Medicaid patients.

Supporters said they would have preferred a more expansive bill, but called the compromise a move in the right direction.

“It’s a drastic reduction from what we had wanted, but it's still a good step forward in that it gets paid sick days for 30,000 home health care workers,” said Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

The legislation would require employers to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave in a year, unless the employer selects a higher limit.

Advocates said the measure would be good for public health. They said workers without paid leave are forced to choose between their health and a paycheck if they or their children are ill.

The issue has been divisive, even among Democrats who control state government. Similar sick leave measures died in last year’s regular and special sessions. Opponents have said a sick leave mandate would be onerous and costly for small businesses that are already struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic and related government restrictions.

Del. Elizabeth Guzman, the chief sponsor of the bill, called the bill a “STEP!”

“My mother was a home health care worker and never had a single paid day off. She is so happy. However, I will keep fighting until no worker is left behind!” Guzman tweeted.

Bobo also said the issue “is not going away.”

“This is the standard that all 1.2 million Virginia workers without paid sick days need," she said. "People get sick, and they should not have to choose between paying their rent or staying home sick.”

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved the bill on a 12-3 vote and sent it to the Finance and Appropriations Committee.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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