The House Commerce Committee yesterday refused to introduce legislation nicknamed the “sandwich bill” proposed by Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, to require a half-hour, unpaid meal break mid-shift for workers who work at least seven and a half hours straight. Only the panel’s two Democratic members, including King, voted to introduce the measure.
King said 21 states have such requirements, and seven more require rest breaks. “Washington is a half-hour break for anybody who works over five hours,” King told the committee. “In Nevada, a half-hour if you work eight continuous hours. … Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, all have meal period requirements in their state law.” She said requiring breaks would protect workers’ health and make them more productive, benefiting both employers and employees.
But Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, said, “I have a small company, and I have employees, and sometimes we’ve got to work when the work’s there. And unfortunately they don’t always get a break.” Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said, “I believe that the employee-employer relationship is part of what I would consider a natural right to associate, and involving the government in that relationship creates all kinds of problems for me.”
Other panel members questioned details of the bill and how it would work. Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, said, “I want to be clear, I think a lunch break is a good idea. I agree with the sentiment of keeping employees productive.” But he questioned who would bear the burden of proof in violation complaints, and how employers would be required to track who had had breaks and who hadn’t.