The New York Times

Lawmakers In New Jersey Advance Bill On Paid Leave

The New York Times — Friday, May 25, 2007


TRENTON, May 24 — Employees of many New Jersey businesses would be entitled to up to 10 weeks of family leave with partial pay for a new baby, a difficult pregnancy or an ill parent or spouse, under a measure approved on Thursday by a Senate committee.

The plan would be financed by employee payroll deductions, which would be about 92 cents a week, and would not require any contribution by employers. Those taking the leave would be eligible for two-thirds of their weekly salary up to a maximum of $488 a week.

The measure would apply only to those who work for New Jersey businesses, and not to New Jersey residents who work in adjacent states.

If the bill is passed by the full Senate and the Assembly and signed into law by the governor, New Jersey would become the third state, after California and Washington, to require companies to offer some form of family leave with partial pay.

The Senate Budget Committee voted 8 to 6 to approve the measure, which would apply to businesses with 50 or more employees, after testimony from business representatives who opposed it and members of unions and public interest groups who supported it.

The Assembly speaker, Joseph J. Roberts Jr., said he doubted that the matter would be taken up in his chamber before the Legislature recessed on June 30.

"I'm keeping an open mind on paid family leave," Mr. Roberts said in a statement Thursday. "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."

Business groups contended that despite the exclusion of the state's smallest businesses and the lack of a required employer contribution -- concessions made over recent months by supporters -- the family leave measure would still cost businesses dearly because of their need to fill slots left vacant by employees on family leave.

"It's not a matter of who pays or doesn't pay," said Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. He added that the bill would further hurt the business climate in the state, citing a survey by his group that ranked New Jersey as the 43rd least competitive state in the nation.

Charles Wowkanech, the president of the state A.F.L.-C.I.O., said the labor movement had been lobbying for a family leave bill for 10 years. He said the concessions made in recent months showed how badly groups like his wanted some form of the measure adopted.

Before the vote, Senators Stephen M. Sweeney and Barbara Buono, the prime sponsors of the bill, jousted with business representatives who suggested that the state's sluggish job growth over the last few years would worsen if the bill was passed.

"You guys said the same thing about the minimum wage," Mr. Sweeney, a Democrat, said. "You said it was going to be the end of the world."

Ms. Buono, also a Democrat, said, "It was ridiculous to suggest that the specter of family leave would slow" the economy, and she pointed to recent reports that increases in corporate tax revenues were expected to exceed earlier projections.

She and Mr. Sweeney were supported by at least one Republican on the committee, Senator Nicholas Asselta of Vineland, who called the bill a "quality of life issue" that could attract new businesses to the state.

The measure, if signed into law, would go into effect in January 2009, when deductions would begin, and no leaves with partial pay would be possible until July 2009.

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