A Democrat state representative told the House Labor Committee small businesses that can’t afford a proposed sick-leave mandate shouldn’t be in business in the first place.

Rep. Michael Cahill (D-Newmarket) made the comment during the February 4 House Labor Committee hearing on House Bill 590. It would require extensive and broad-based employer-funded leave for all employees, both full and part-time.

David Juvet of the Business and Industry Association told the committee the proposal would cause a death spiral among small businesses. “Passing this type of legislation which would create extraordinary costs on the part of some businesses may be the tipping point that would put them out of business,” Juvet said.

“Businesses large and small understand the importance of a paid sick leave benefit,” Juvet testified, opposing the bill. “The businesses that are not providing it are not doing so because they don’t recognize the importance of it; they’re doing so because they don’t have the financial resources to offer such a benefit.”

In response, Cahill said, “Maybe if you can’t afford to provide for your employees, then you really can’t afford a business.”

Advocates for New Hampshire small businesses expressed their dismay with the Democrat’s comment.

“Disappointing,” said Bruce Berke with the National Federation of Independent Businesses in New Hampshire. “Rep. Cahill and I have worked together on legislation in the past. I know he appreciates the different pressures there are for business owners.”

Andrew Cline of the free-market Josiah Bartlett Center quipped, “Maybe legislators who are so hostile to business shouldn’t be put on the Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee.

“I think paid sick time is a good benefit,” Cline added. “But having a part-time job at a small business without paid sick time is better than having no job because the small business closed on account of unaffordable government mandates.”

It’s not the first time Cahill has made a controversial comment during a House hearing. In response to  Republican refusals to consider tax hikes in 2015, Cahill said, “Since we are refusing to raise revenues to fund needed programs, to fund services to disabled, for example, have you looked at euthanasia?”

He quickly apologized for the remark.

The language of the bill leaves little room for compromise. Employees need only make a verbal request for the sick time, they can’t be required to demonstrate the need is legitimate, and there is a “presumption of unlawful retaliation whenever an employer takes adverse action against an employee or former employee” within 90 days of using sick time benefits.

“I understand that businesses are having a very tough time,” said Cahill, insisting that legislation is necessary for employees. “The employees of these businesses are also having a very difficult time. If they don’t earn much money to begin with, they’re working part-time, and then they get sick, and they can’t come to work, and they can’t pay this bill or that bill, or fix their car, and so again they can’t go to work.

“How can we motivate if we can’t legislate?” Cahill asked Juvet. “How can we motivate these businesses who you say are not choosing because they don’t like the concept, but that they can’t afford it?”

“I would suggest that although a person working a lower wage job and without a paid sick leave benefit is not ideal for that individual,” Juvet responded, “being unemployed because the business goes out of business is even less ideal.”

Insisting that the free-market is a better motivator for better benefits, Juvet told the Labor Committee that “every company in New Hampshire right now is in competition for employees, and every employer understands what they need to do and what they need to provide in terms of employee benefits to both attract and retain employees.”

“Right now, there are many businesses, probably many of the ones who are not able to provide a paid sick leave benefit, who are in a life and death struggle to survive.”

Representative Josh Adjutant (D-Bridgewater) pushed back on Juvet’s estimation of the harmful impact this could have.

“We’re talking about $640 a year… does that really square? Do you think $640 per employee would really destroy some of these businesses that otherwise would struggle to comply with this legislation?”

“I don’t know how many [businesses] would be driven out of business by this,” Juvet answered. “I can tell you that the struggle is real right now, and that there are a lot of businesses, smaller businesses especially in the travel and tourism sectors … that are really hurting right now and don’t need an additional burden.”

“We don’t think it’s appropriate for the state to mandate one size fits all policies,” he said.