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County Commission’s Anti-Sick Leave Ordinances Questioned

The Lane County Commission acted against Eugene’s paid sick leave ordinance before the city had its public hearing on the issue. The three ordinances that the county rushed to vote contain a typo in a reference to Oregon law, and they are similar to model legislation to preempt sick leave put forth at the state level by the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The Eugene City Council passed an ordinance that would require workers for all Eugene businesses and nonprofits to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours a year. It also applies to businesses outside the city with employees who work at least six weeks a year in Eugene. The City Council passed the ordinance July 28, but the County Commission passed its three ordinances against the city’s rule on July 21. 

The county ordinances exempt all Lane County businesses from Eugene’s sick leave mandate if located outside the city limits, exempt all employers with employees in the county from the ordinance and the most heavy-handed of the ordinances bars any local government within Lane County from passing laws that dictate any employment conditions.

Commissioner Pete Sorenson was out of town during the rushed votes. Commissioner Pat Farr voted against the most heavy-handed measure, but in favor of the other two, and commissioners Jay Bozievich, Faye Stewart and Sid Leiken voted for all three ordinances. 

Local attorney Melissa Wischerath points out that the ordinances contain a line saying that the “Oregon Legislature expressed its intent to preempt local legislation in this area with the passage of ORS 657.017,” but there is no Oregon Revised Statute 657.017. She suspects that the county meant to refer to 653.017. She says, “Because this is a substantive error, I think they’d have to vote on this all over again with a corrected ordinance.” 

Trevor Steele, a spokesman with Lane County says that, according to county counsel, a drafting error doesn’t make the ordinance invalid, and that according to the county’s attorney, the “whereas” section in which the error occurs sets up the action but is not the action itself.

Wischerath also notes the similarities between the county’s ordinances and laws pushed by ALEC, a conservative organization that promotes “model legislation” that benefits corporations. According to the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, ALEC funders include Koch Industries and the tobacco industry. 

Steele says Commissioner Bozievich, who spoke up the loudest against sick leave, says he had not heard about the ALEC legislation.

Wischerath also says that since the ordinance preempts “a unit of local government as defined in ORS 190.003” from adopting or enacting employment laws the county has essentially preempted itself because “under this ordinance only the state can legislate employment issues in Lane County.” If challenged, she says, this ordinance will likely fail as being unconstitutional.