Legislators sometimes try to outwait controversy, hoping that time will save them from having to make the choice they know they should make. That may be why a bill to provide 10 weeks of paid family leave for New Jersey employees – a bill good enough and necessary enough to have passed weeks ago – is running out of time.
Bills that do not clear before the legislative session adjourns this month will have to be reintroduced and repeat committee reviews before the Assembly or Senate can vote. New Jersey's family leave bill is heading for that deadline. The measure would de duct about $1 a week from employee checks to pay two-thirds of workers' salaries, up to $502, if they take a leave to care for a sick relative, a newborn or newly adopted child.
We expect that the arguments against this measure will someday seem as curious as those made against a 40-hour workweek. Yet some employer groups are pressuring legislators not to vote. Opponents continue to misconstrue this legislation, claiming in particular that it will impose a hardship on small businesses. In fact, all of the reasonable questions have been addressed – such as the need for giving adequate notice before employees take a leave – and a major compromise was made to protect small businesses.
Larger employers must guarantee that employees who take a leave will have a job when they return. Employers with fewer than 50 workers do not have to make that guarantee.
The primary sponsor of the bill, Sen. Stephen Sweeney, also has said he would be willing to make another concession and cut New Jersey's leave to six weeks – the same as in California, which already has paid leave – if that would get the bill passed in this session.
That offer should challenge legislators to do their job and stop waiting for time to take the question off their hands. They need to vote – now – for what every family in New Jersey is going to need sooner or later.
Copyright 2007 The Star-Ledger