Calif. bill would allow paid leaves to care for family

By Steve Lawrence The Associated Press
Tuesday June 11, 2002

SACRAMENTO – California could be the first state to allow workers to take paid leaves from their jobs to care for a seriously ill family member or a new child under a bill approved Monday by the Senate. 

The measure, by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, was sent to the Assembly by a 21-15 vote. 

California currently allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves, a seriously ill parent, child or spouse or because of the birth or adoption of a child. 

But Kuehl said most workers can’t afford to take advantage of the program. 

Her bill would allow about 12 million workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent or domestic partner or to care for a new child. 

Workers taking part in the program would receive 55 percent of their wages, up to a maximum of $490 a week. The maximum payment would increase each year based on an inflation factor. 

Employers and employees would split the cost of the program, which is estimated to be about $42 a year per worker. Using that figure, an employer with 10 employees would pay $210 annually and each of the 10 employees would pay $21 into the leave fund. 

A doctor would have to verify that there was a seriously illness or a new child before an employee could take a leave. 

Nesty Firestein, director of the Labor Project for Working Families, a nonprofit group based in Berkeley, said no state has paid leaves, although legislation has been introduced in more than 20 states to implement such programs. 

She predicted it would save employers money by helping them retain employees. 

Sen. Ray Haynes, R-Riverside, complained that lawmakers were assured when they approved the unpaid leave program several years ago that it would never be turned into a paid program. 

“I hope this is a lesson for the next Republican governor or next Republican president before they sign this kind of bill,” he said. “Once Democrats control everything they are going to start raising taxes and raising benefits to pay for these screwball ideas. 

“A tax on a job eliminates jobs; this is a tax on a job.” 

But Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, said fewer and fewer families can afford to have one spouse work.