A bill before a key Assembly committee would require large grocery stores to offer health insurance to employees -- or pay Nevada back for any health care the state provides.
Under AB356, reviewed Wednesday by the Commerce and Labor Committee, failure to comply could cost the stores the permits they need to operate.
Discussion on the bill focused on mega-store Wal-Mart, the world's largest employer, with Danny Thompson, secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO in Nevada, telling the committee more than 60 percent of Wal-Mart's employees don't have insurance.
Thompson said that as Wal-Mart moves into communities and drives out grocery stores that do offer health insurance, the state often picks up the tab for displaced workers and Wal-Mart employees when they get sick and go to public hospitals.
"The issue is, who is going to pay?" Thompson said.
The bill makes the same point, stating it's unfair for large grocery stores to decline offering insurance to make more money and "shift the burden of paying for such health care to charitable institutions and programs of health that are supported by the contributions of taxpayers."
Amy Hill, a Wal-Mart corporate spokeswoman, said the insinuation that Wal-Mart doesn't provide adequate health care is wrong, as are the union's numbers.
She said that of the 75 percent of employees who are eligible for medical coverage at any time, more than 60 percent purchase coverage.
"When we do surveys asking people why they want to work for Wal-Mart, one of the answers is our insurance plan," Hill said.
Stan Fortune, a strategic programs employee of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, told the committee he worked for Wal-Mart for 14 years.
He said it was a regular practice of the company to shift working hours to avoid having employees work more than 32 hours, which would make them eligible for medical coverage.
Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, is sponsoring the AB356. As originally drafted, the bill would have provided a $1 per hour raise in minimum wage, but Giunchigliani asked the committee to remove that provision.
She said that with the governor and legislative leaders demanding a broad-based business tax to help fill state coffers, pushing additional burdens onto Nevada's business industry wasn't appropriate.
The bill would also require the state to determine the cost of living in Nevada for several different types of households. Giunchigliani told the committee following the federal cost of living standard isn't appropriate because it doesn't take into account costs specific to Nevada.
AB356 requires the state to include expenses for food, housing, utilities, health care, child care, transportation and taxes, among other things, when determining the cost of living.