The three weeks his family spent at his bedside after his near fatal Parkway crash in April convinced Gov. Jon Corzine of the need to push for a paid family leave law in New Jersey.
His three children, as well as his companion, Sharon Elghanyan, "basically stopped working" and were with him around the clock, Corzine said in a speech yesterday to South Jersey business leaders. "All of us had the (financial) capacity to be able to do that," he added. "Not everybody does."
The personal revelation set the stage for Corzine to bluntly inform the business leaders he will push for legislation by the end of the year to provide paid time off to any worker dealing with a family medical crisis or the arrival of a new child. The bill would make New Jersey the second state, after California, to offer some form of paid family leave.
"I am not convinced it is devastating to business practices and operations," Corzine said of the legislation, which is opposed by the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey.
The business leaders have expressed concern the program would be abused and that the cost of temporarily replacing workers, especially for small business owners, could be devastating.
But Corzine said he is firm in his view the law is a fair and just way to allow working and middle-class families to be able to care for loved ones in stressful times. He admonished the crowd of suit-clad executives that if they were "intellectually honest" they would look at the experience in California and see paid family leave does not impose a hardship.
Five months ago, Corzine told the AFL-CIO annual convention in Atlantic City that he would make it a top priority to get paid family leave legislation enacted by the end of the year.
But the bill (S2249) is hung up in the Statehouse because of an apparent lack of support in the Assembly. Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) has not pushed for the bill, which has 18 Democratic sponsors but has not yet been given a committee hearing.
In the Senate, the bill has been through two committees and is awaiting a floor vote.
Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), the bill sponsor, said the committee amended the bill to reduce the number of weeks off to 10 from the original 12. He also said he and other supporters would be willing to cut it to six weeks in order to win passage. But, Sweeney said, he would draw the line at making small businesses exempt.
"I've given as much as I can," he said. "There has been zero compromise on the business side."
The bill would require workers to use vacation time before taking family leave, and it would limit payments to a maximum of $502 a week. The program would be paid through a payroll deduction of 1/10th of 1 percent and it would be set aside in a special reserve as part of the State Disability Fund.
Sweeney said he remained hopeful the bill would be voted on before the current session of the Legislature finishes up its work in January.
To that end, Corzine was out to raise public awareness of the log jam, first at the South Jersey chamber breakfast and later at a Rutgers University lunch by [New Jersey] Citizen Action, which describes itself as a grass-roots group advocating for a progressive agenda.
"I don't think we're putting an undue burden on anyone by giving a helping hand to those who need it at a time of great stress in their family" Corzine told the activists.
The activists provided the governor a rousing ovation in response to his remarks.
"That was a little bit different than this morning," Corzine joked afterward.
Copyright 2007 The Star-Ledger