USA Today

N.J. Takes A Step Toward Paid Family Leave

USA Today — Thursday, May 24, 2007

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey senators on Thursday pushed forward a plan that would make the state the third in the USA to offer 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 state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee 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," Senate President Richard Codey said.

The General 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," Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts said.

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 Sweeney, 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," Sweeney said.

Businesses have argued that 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 employees for the time. Instead, the money would come from the state's temporary disability insurance fund. Workers could receive a maximum of $488 per week. It would be funded by a 0.1% charge against a worker's weekly wages.

Joan Verplanck, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said she has never seen stronger business opposition to a proposed bill.

Brendan Gilfillan, spokesman for Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, said the governor supports the concept of paid family leave.

"He believes good progress was made today," Gilfillan said.

"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 off.

Washington adopted a law on paid family leave earlier this month 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.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News