Assembly OKs Paid Work Leave; Final Approval Expected Monday

Newsday — Thursday, March 13, 2008

Associated Press Writer

TRENTON, N.J. — The Assembly on Thursday pushed New Jersey closer to being the third state to allow workers to take paid leave to care for a new child or sick relative, approving a Democratic plan to let workers take six weeks' leave starting next year.

The Assembly voted 46-30 to approve the legislation, which is expected to get final legislative approval Monday by the Senate. Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he will sign the bill.

Workers would be able to start taking paid leave on July 1, 2009.

"This piece of legislation is for everyone out in the working world trying to make a living," said Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May. "This is about the working person. This is about the working family."

But Philip Kirschner, the executive director of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, which represents 23,000 companies, decried the vote, saying it was "reckless to impose this job-killing mandate on business."

"At a time when New Jersey is facing steep cuts in spending and the elimination of government programs, it is irresponsible to pass this costly new benefits program," Kirschner said.

California allows workers to take up to six weeks paid leave under a 2004 law, while Washington will allow workers to take five weeks paid leave as of October 2009. Federal law allows workers in businesses with at least 50 employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

The New Jersey program would be paid for through a payroll deduction that legislative officials estimate would cost workers $33 per year. Workers who take leave would get two-thirds of their salary, up to about $500 per week.

State Labor Commissioner David Socolow estimates 38,000 New Jersey workers annually would take paid leave. New Jersey has 4.1 million workers.

Assemblywoman Elease Evans, D-Essex, said the leave would prove invaluable to workers facing family emergencies.

"The people of New Jersey are hurting and they need something good to happen," Evans said.

Assemblyman Michael Doherty, R-Warren, beseeched the Assembly to halt the bill's advance.

"This bill not only creates a new payroll tax on our citizens, but will destroy our state's already struggling economy," he said.

Assemblywoman Marcia Karrow, R-Hunterdon, said it would make employers hesitant to hire young women for fear they would take paid leave when they get pregnant or have a sick child.

"This is going to create a new glass ceiling," Karrow said.

In California, most of those who have taken leave did so to care for a newborn, with women accounting for most of those who took it.

But Assemblyman Jerry Green, D-Middlesex, said paid leave would make workers more comfortable and thus more productive.

"Trust me, you will get a lot more out of that individual," Green said.

The measure passed the Democratic-controlled Senate 22-16, largely along party lines, earlier this month. But the Assembly amended it to preclude lawsuits from small business employees who lose their job after taking paid leave, so the Senate will reconsider it on Monday. The bill allows businesses with less than 50 employees to tell workers they won't be guaranteed to keep their jobs if they take leave.

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