Colorado lawmakers vow to return on paid family leave

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Posted at 11:56 AM, Apr 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-25 14:59:07-04

DENVER (AP) — Sponsors of a sweeping Colorado paid family leave bill said Thursday they aren't giving up despite successful pushback from large business groups that derailed their proposal this year.

Democratic Sens. Angela Williams and Faith Winter vowed to return with a universal plan that would be operational in 2024. Meanwhile, they're seeking a study on the plan's viability to present to lawmakers in 2020.

Winter said supporters won't compromise on their goal of a paid leave option for all Colorado workers.

"Ultimately we want universal coverage, and that is not something we will compromise on," Winter told reporters. "Whether you are a fast food worker or work at a law firm, you should have access to paid leave." She said nearly 90 percent of Colorado workers lack paid leave to tend to loved ones, newborns and expanded family emergencies — and that situation disproportionately affects women and minorities in the workplace.

"What the business community has to realize is that the traditional nuclear family has changed" since the federal Family and Medical Leave Act was adopted in 1993, Williams said.

Large business chambers and minority Republican lawmakers questioned the cost to employers and the fiscal soundness of the proposed $1 billion program.

"Our opposition (to the bill) has never been based on the concept of paid family leave," the Colorado Chamber of Commerce said in a statement. "It's been about striking a balance between employees and employers, ensuring any program is financially sound, and allowing for flexibility rather than a one-size-fits-all program."

The proposal would have provided up to 12 weeks of leave, with up to $1,000 a week in benefits, without workers having to worry about their jobs. Premium payments would begin in 2023, with the first benefits available in 2024.

Winter and Williams offered a series of amendments intended to meet the concerns of most of the state's major business chambers, including allowing private employers to opt out of the program under certain conditions and reducing employer contributions to a plan.

Williams, a former small business owner, said many small businesses support the bill because it would increase worker productivity and retention.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act generally allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and retain their health coverage at firms with more than 50 workers.

Several states, including California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, run their own leave programs largely funded by payroll deductions, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. Washington state and Washington, D.C., plan to launch programs in 2020.