Family Leave Bill Receives Panel's OK

CourierPostOnline — Friday, February 29, 2008

Courier-Post Staff

A state senator from South Jersey appeared before an Assembly committee Thursday, making a successful pitch for a bill to create a family-leave program.

"Working families have been waiting for these benefits for far too long," said Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, after the Assembly Labor Committee approved the proposal.

The measure – being sponsored by Sweeney in the Senate – would offer six weeks of paid leave. That's down from 12 weeks in a bill that died in the last legislative session.

"This bill is as good as it's going to get, and I am looking forward to the day when this legislation becomes law," said Sweeney, the Senate majority leader.

But critics said the bill would impose a new tax on workers and new burdens on employers.

"If approved, we will lose more jobs and the very people this bill purports to help will, in reality, be harmed," said Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris, who voted against the bill.

The committee voted 6-2, plus one abstention, to create an employee-funded account from which workers could receive two-thirds of their pay, up to $502 a week, for time off to care for a newborn, newly adopted child or ill family member.

Workers would pay up to 64 cents per week, or $33 a year, to fund the program.

Employees would have to exhaust maternity and disability leave time, and would have to use at least two weeks of sick time and vacation before qualifying for paid family leave, Sweeney noted.

Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner David Socolow said the leave would benefit low-income workers, many of whom don't get paid days off.

The measure now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

A companion measure in the Senate is to be considered Monday.

Gregory Volpe of Gannett State Bureau contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 Courier-Post

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