State lawmakers could deliver a belated gift for Father’s Day — and Mother’s Day, for that matter — if they’re able to turn a tentative agreement into adopted legislation before the end of their second special session. If so, they would deliver on a promise made 10 years ago to provide workers paid family leave.
The Legislature passed a paid family leave bill in 2007, but the law has been dormant because legislators never specified a way to pay for employees’ time away from work. When bills were proposed earlier in the year in the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House, that provided a starting point for negotiations.
As outlined now in a basic framework described Friday by The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield:
Employees — women and men — would be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, for an ailing family member or for themselves to recover from a disabling injury or illness. Up to 16 weeks could be taken during a year for a combination of those events. Women with complications from pregnancy could take up to two additional weeks of leave.
Benefits, paid weekly, would amount to a percentage of a worker’s pay up to a maximum of $1,000 a week, but those earning less than the state’s average wage would be guaranteed at least 90 percent of their pay. The benefit, which would begin in 2020, would be portable, meaning employees moving from job to job keep the benefit.
Workers, through a payroll tax, will cover about 63 percent of the program, with employers contributing the rest. Deductions would begin in 2019.
And while businesses with fewer than 50 employees would be exempt from making contributions, their employees would make contributions and would be eligible.
The provisions above represent lawmakers’ work, including that of Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, who proposed legislation in the House, to find common ground. Among the concessions were the length of the benefit. Robinson’s legislation proposed a maximum of 26 weeks of leave, while a Republican senator’s initial bill set the maximum at eight weeks at first, increasing it to 12 in 2023.
At the same time, lawmakers worked to keep the legislation from being a burden on businesses, exempting smaller businesses and putting most of the cost for the program’s support on employees. Even so, the payroll deduction is not onerous, about $2 a week for someone who makes about $20 an hour.
Even with the compromises, the state’s family leave law would offer among the best terms in the nation. Only California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York have paid family leave laws. California, for example, offers only six weeks; New York will start with eight weeks next year, increasing that to 12 by 2021.
The benefits for employees and employers are clear.
Employees can take the time they need to care for a new child after birth or adoption, an ailing family member or themselves, with less worry about paying bills. Employers benefit, too, by limiting the chance an employee would choose to quit because of birth or illness, thus avoiding having to replace an experienced worker.
Helping to push a compromise were voters who passed the state’s minimum wage and sick leave imitative last fall, a point made by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, in Friday’s story. Having balked at past attempts to raise the minimum wage in the Legislature, the voters took up the issue themselves and incrementally raised the hourly wage, now $11 an hour, to $13.50 by 2020.
Dragging feet on paid family leave risked another voter initiative, one out of the hands of lawmakers.
Lawmakers now have an opportunity to honor the legislation they passed a decade ago and secure a benefit that is truly family-friendly.