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Paid Time Off For Vaccinations Is Coming

New York’s workers could be able to take four hours of paid time off to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

The state Senate unanimously passed S.2588 on Monday; the state Assembly passed the legislation 136-13 on Feb. 3. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voted against the legislation in the Assembly. The legislation will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his consideration.

“I have to say that I struggle with this bill greatly not because people did not need the time to get a vaccine but because of the effect it will have on so many small businesses,” said state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay. “There’s really no allocation for part-timers. If someone is hiring someone to watch their children, are they going to have to give them that four hours paid off? But at the end of the day I’ve decided to support this bill mostly because of the tremendous lack of vaccine that we have here in New York state and the way that the governor has handled the rollout of this vaccine distribution.”

The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Fall, D-Staten Island, and Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Brooklyn, amends the state Civil Service Law to give public officers or employees up to four hours of paid leave per injection to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, unless the public employers can get more time off under their union contract or if their employer gives them more time on their own. An amendment to the original legislation extends the time off to private employees.

Borrello said he has concerns over how small businesses are affected but said people who are driving several hours to get COVID-19 vaccines need the state’s help as well.

“I have people in my district driving hours to get a vaccination taking whatever appointment might be available regardless of how far away it is so they can get this much-needed vaccination,” Borrello said. “So while I really am concerned about the impact on our small businesses, if this is really important because of the way the governor has handled the rollout of this vaccine distribution, we cannot really afford to let someone pass up an open appointment. It’s like hitting the lottery for some people right now.”

In the Assembly, Goodell offered an amendment he said would strengthen the bill by requiring employees to promptly notify their employer so the employer can adjust staffing. The suggestion was a way to protect taxpayers in cities with minimum staffing clauses and minimum call-in notifications to be able to avoid excessive overtime and to make sure schools and hospitals have appropriate staffing. Goodell also suggested having employees provide documentation the vaccine was actually received or that it was not available when the employee went to a vaccine clinic.

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo and Assembly majority leader, said there was no need for the amendment because it could be handled like any other medical appointment. She also said Republicans should have proposed the amendment before the legislation reached the Assembly floor.

“It’s always good to have good collegial conversation, but in my estimation the time to have a good collegial is before we get to this moment on the floor,” Peoples-Stokes said. “This is legislation that is not unlike existing legislation that’s already in place, particularly as it relates to health issues”

Goodell said the amendment could have been discussed earlier had Assembly Democrats given Republicans more notice that Fall’s bill was going to be on the legislative calendar. He likewise called on Democrats to give Republicans more notice of legislation that is to be discussed. Assemblyman Michael Reilly, R-South Shore, said the amendment was discussed during a committee meeting on Feb. 2, but Democrats chose not to move on it then either.

“I cannot agree more with my esteemed colleague, the Majority Leader, our desire to get these amendments before the House faster,” Goodell replied. “The problem that we face in the minority is that we weren’t advised by the majority that this bill would be on today’s calendar until yesterday. It was late yesterday afternoon when we were advised that these bills would be on today’s calendar. And so after session yesterday, in the evening, the minority conference had a special conference to discuss the bills. And, of course, we have to provide time for our staff to review it and be prepared to discuss it. And so late last night, we’re working on the amendment. And as everyone here knows, all amendments have to go through bill drafting. Now, we’re thankful that bill drafting came in early and started working on the amendment, but we didn’t get a draft back from bill drafting until after 10 o’clock this morning.”

The amendment was defeated 95-54 with several Democrats crossing party lines. Goodell was one of 13 Assembly members to vote against the legislation. His opposition was based on the state mandating a rule on every state employer without recognizing the unique circumstances different businesses face.

“So, in recognition of the huge problems that we have here in New York state, where our vaccination percentage lags many other states, I’m compelled to support this bill, although I think in reality, the overwhelming majority of our employers would do everything reasonable to help their employees get a vaccination, because our employers who are responsible by and large all across the state recognize that the cost and lost productivity by having an employee get a vaccination pales to the loss in productivity and the cost that occurs if an employee tests positive and is then quarantined and, perhaps, all the other employees around that individual are quarantined and, in some situations involving restaurants, for example, sometimes the entire business has to be shut down,” Goodell said.

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