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Our Opinion: Take Portlands sick-leave case to Salem

In the most recent episode of Portlandia, the mayor worries his city is falling behind Seattle in the contest to see which municipality can ban the most activities.

Meanwhile, back here in real-life Portland, city commissioners likewise are thinking of how they can keep up with Seattle in the regulatory department. This time, they want to require businesses to provide sick leave to their employees. (Seattle already has adopted a similar ordinance.)

We should pause right here to state emphatically that we think most businesses should allow sick leave for their employees to take care of themselves or their loved ones when they fall ill. Indeed, about 60 percent of workers in the city have this benefit already.

The question isn’t whether employees have aright to stay home when sick, but whether the city of Portland is the correct entity to approve and enforce labor laws. The proposed sick-leave ordinanceimplicitly acknowledges that this particular subject is outside the city’s typical area of expertise: It calls for Portland to contract with the stateBureau of Labor and Industries to enforce the local ordinance.

That’s a recognition that the state of Oregon and the federal government already have substantial regulations in place toprotect workers. Perhaps reforms are needed in the area of sick leave. However, we do not believe the city of Portland should go it alone in search of stricter rules for businesses.

Nor should Portland try to exercise power beyond its own borders by requiring employers based outside the city — but who send workers into Portland — to also provide sick leave. That’s just one of the impractical provisions in the sick-leave code as it is now envisioned.

If Portland city commissioners were known for their sensitivity to business, we may not have as large of a concern about this ordinance, currently being advanced by Commissioner Amanda Fritz. Portland,though, already is viewed — rightly or wrongly — as unfriendly to business. One danger of creating patchwork labor laws in Oregon is that city commissioners could end up discouraging businesses that have a choice from locating within Portland.

Without extensive collaboration between business leaders and city officials who are writing this code, we see little chance a workable law can be fashioned at the local level. One positive aspect of the proposed code, however, is that it would not take effect until 2014 — thereby giving the 2013 Oregon Legislature time to act.

Fritz is on the right track in thinking the Legislature is the most appropriate body to address the sick-leave issue. Rather than persisting with a local ordinance, city commissioners should take their case to Salem, where fair and enforceable labor laws can be approved not for one city in Oregon — but for all.