Gov. Jon Corzine repeated his commitment yesterday to establishing paid family leave for workers in New Jersey, saying he would agree to a compromise that would cut the leave time from the proposed 10 weeks to six.
Corzine made his comments during a speech before a 300-person gathering in Woodbridge of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, a group that opposes the leave proposal now being hashed out in Trenton.
"I'm making the case that I think we ought to move it. I'd rather move it in lame duck," Corzine said of the current legislative session that ends Jan. 8. "But if we don't move it in lame duck, it will be an agenda item that's near the top in the new legislative session."
The proposal would grant paid time off to any worker dealing with a family medical crisis or the arrival of a new child. Workers would get two-thirds of their weekly salaries up to $502. The bill would make New Jersey the second state, after California, to offer some form of paid family leave.
Corzine again referred to his near-fatal car crash in April to illustrate the need for the law. He said his children and companion all had to sacrifice time from their jobs to tend to his needs during four weeks of intensive recovery.
"For us it was not a hardship," the wealthy governor said. "A lot of people don't have that chance."
Corzine also stressed, both during his speech and in talking with reporters later, that critics are inaccurate when they say the bill would force businesses of all sizes – including mom-and-pop operations – to provide paid family leave. For businesses with fewer than 50 employees, he said, the paid leave requirement would apply only to those that already voluntarily offer unpaid family leave.
But NJBIA President Philip Kirschner said the bill would re quire paid leave to be offered even by the smallest of businesses, despite Corzine's explanation.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), said he opposed changing the bill to make an exception for small businesses.
"I've expressed a willingness to compromise," Sweeney said. "But let me be clear, an exemption for small businesses is not one of the options."
Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) spoke to the same audience and said the bill, in its current form, is dead.
"As the bill stands now, as the bill looks now, it's not going to ad vance," Roberts said. "We need to continue to work on some of the details, some of the fine print."
The speaker said he supports the general concept and "I think it will become reality sometime in New Jersey, but in my opinion it's not there yet."
In a statement later in the day, Roberts' spokesman Joseph Don nelly said the bill will be discussed by the Democratic caucus when it meets tomorrow.
Kirschner said the bill would put New Jersey at "a huge competitive disadvantage. ... We have had a record response from business people against the bill, telling legislators, in their personal experience, the negative impacts they believe it will have on their businesses and their ability to grow."
Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex), who also attended yesterday's conference, said cutting the leave back to six weeks and exempting small businesses would be key compromises.
"We've got to understand there's a need for this," Codey said.
Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 The Star-Ledger