BISMARCK — North Dakota Democrats have proposed using some of the state's slice of federal COVID-19 funding to establish a paid sick leave fund for those struggling with the illness, but a top Republican lawmaker with decision-making authority said he's not in favor of the idea.
Bismarck Sen. Erin Oban and Fargo Rep. Karla Rose Hanson introduced the proposal at a virtual press conference Monday, July 13. They say the state's all-Republican Emergency Commission should approve $20 million to create the fund at its next meeting to carve up what remains of North Dakota's $1.25-billion coronavirus relief funding from the CARES Act.
The commission and the Legislature's Budget Section have already allocated about $930 million of the funding. The commission, which includes Gov. Doug Burgum, Secretary of State Al Jaeger and four legislative leaders, will meet Aug. 3 to hear proposals for CARES Act funding from different state agencies and likely allocate the remaining sum. The 43-member Budget Section will then hold a meeting to take an up-or-down vote on the proposals approved by the commission.
Hanson said the sick leave fund would benefit employees who have tested positive for the virus, those who have a family member with it and those who must stay home to care for their children during a school closure. She said offering paid leave to those who don't already get it through their employer would add incentive for sick people to stay home and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he doesn't see the need for the Democratic proposal, but added that he's always open to listening. Wardner noted that most people who get the virus aren't out of work for more than a few weeks, and many employers already offer sick leave.
Republican leaders have so far rejected the Democratic-NPL Party's plea for a special session to divide up the federal funds, saying that step isn't necessary. Democrats have denounced the current avenues for allocating the money as unrepresentative.