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Court battle over Milwaukee sick-leave ordinance could prove irrelevant

Sherry Johnson (left) and Rosie Caradine-Lewis, both of Milwaukee, hold signs and chant during a rally Thursday at Milwaukee City Hall after an appellate court upheld the city’s sick-leave law. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

A bill that would eliminate Milwaukee’s mandatory sick-leave ordinance before it takes effect came one step closer to becoming law Tuesday.

The state Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Workforce Development approved a bill that would prohibit municipalities from establishing independent sick-leave rules, such as the one Milwaukee voters approved in a 2008 referendum.

The Milwaukee ordinance would grant full-time workers at least one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, averaging out to nine days per year.

The Madison-based 4th District Court of Appeals on March 24 ruled the ordinance constitutional, but the Assembly bill approved in committee Tuesday – favored by Republicans and opposed by Democrats – would render the court verdict irrelevant.

The bill next heads to the full Assembly, where it is likely to pass under the Republican majority.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce has challenged the ordinance in court, arguing the language on the ballot was too vague for voters to know what they were deciding on.

The city of Milwaukee opted not to defend the ordinance, but 9to5, National Association of Working Women, Milwaukee, successfully argued the constitutionality of the ordinance. The case could head to the state Supreme Court.

The court battle, though, would become meaningless if the Legislature approves the Assembly bill and bans municipalities from mandating sick-leave rules to businesses.

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