CBS 3 Philadelphia

N.J. Lawmakers Push 'Paid Leave' For Caretakers

CBS 3 Philadelphia — Thursday, May 24, 2007

(AP) TRENTON — New Jersey senators Thursday pushed forward a plan that would make New Jersey the third state offering paid leave for family members needing time off work to care for a sick relative or new child, but not without protests from businesses.

The Senate Budget and Appropriations panel released the bill to the full Senate, but it hasn't been scheduled for a vote.

"We need to vet it with the public and the business companies and it's going to take a while," said Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex.

The Assembly has yet to consider the bill.

"I'm keeping an open mind on paid family leave, but because our primary focus right now is on achieving a balanced state budget, I don't believe the Assembly will consider this issue before we recess," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., D-Camden.

The Legislature hasn't scheduled any meetings beyond June 28, but supporters are hopeful that the legislation will become law.

"How an employer can force a worker to choose between taking time off to care for a family member and being able to make ends meet financially is beyond me," said Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, the bill's prime sponsor. "The passage of this legislation would send a clear message to New Jersey's workers that they will no longer have to choose their financial livelihood over caring for a loved one."

Businesses argued the law would hit them hard. Under Sweeney's bill, companies would be required to give the employees the time off. They would not be required to pay them for the time. Instead the money would come from the state's temporary disability insurance fund, and workers could receive a maximum of $488 per week.

Joan Verplanck, president of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, said she's never seen stronger business opposition to a proposed bill in her 12 years as president.

"My members tell me they are tired of mandate after mandate being demanded of their companies by state government," she said. "This, on top of all the taxes they pay and the other astronomical costs associated with operating a business in New Jersey. It is becoming difficult if not impossible for our businesses to survive."

Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine's administration said the governor would work to resolve disputes over the proposal.

"The governor supports the concept of paid family leave, and he believes good progress was made today," Corzine spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said. "We'll continue to work with the Legislature to help folks strike a balance between their job and their family, while addressing the concerns of the business community."

Sweeney sought to ease business concerns by reducing the proposed family leave time from 12 weeks to 10 weeks.

He also noted that the bill allows employers to require that workers use up to two weeks of vacation time before being eligible for family leave.

"It's a quality of life bill," said Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, which has been pushing for a leave bill for 10 years.

California, long the only other state with a paid family leave program, allows workers to take up to six weeks.

Washington adopted a paid family leave law two weeks ago that will allow workers to take five weeks off as of October 2009.

Federal law has allowed workers in businesses with at least 50 employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave since 1993.

The New Jersey leave would be funded by a 0.1 percent charge against a worker's weekly wages. Legislative officials estimate that would cost most workers about $1 per week. Most New Jersey workers pay $129 per year in temporary disability insurance through their paychecks.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press

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