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Paid family leave supporters look to 2016

Karen Dewitt
WRVO News (file photo)

Supporters of paid family leave in New York say they hope 2016 will be their year, but business groups are urging caution.

A measure to allow all workers in the state 12 weeks of paid leave to take care of a new baby or sick family member was approved in the New York State Assembly, and two measures gained support in the New York State Senate, but the issue fell by the wayside in the end of session rush to pass bills and adjourn for the summer.

The Senate sponsor of a two-house bill, Sen. Joseph Addabbo of Queens, says he thinks it’s not a question of if the measure will pass, but when.

“This is going to happen,” Addabbo said. “There’s such momentum going on.”

He says it’s become a “national movement” with President Barack Obama discussing it, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) pressing for federal paid family leave.

Addabbo’s bill on the state level, which is sponsored by Cathy Nolan in the Assembly, draws on the state’s temporary disability insurance program to pay for the program. Employees would have to pay what the senator says is a small amount, and the program itself would be upgraded to offer larger weekly payments.

Business groups, though, are objecting -- like Greg Biryla with Unshackle Upstate.

“It’s a one size fits all mandate,” Biryla said. “that’s particularly burdensome for small employers.”

Biryla says even the federal Medical Leave Act , which allows unpaid leave, exempts businesses with less than 50 employees. He says small businesses are already “underwater” from high worker’s compensation costs, taxes, and the new measure by the Cuomo administration to phase in a $15 an hour minimum wage.  

“You can’t talk about a new mandate without understanding the larger context,” Biryla said.

He says at the very least, an impact study should be conducted before going further.

But Addabbo says California has had paid family leave for nearly a decade, and New Jersey has also instituted up to 12 weeks paid leave since 2009. Businesses in those states have not been shown to be harmed, and a report found that nearly 90 percent of employers said it had no effect or was even a positive factor, because, according to the senator, says it reduces stress on employees faced with having to care for a family member at home, because they will no longer have to lose their paychecks, too. He says he’s willing to talk to business groups about their concerns, but does not believe it will be an undue burden.

“This is not a job killer,” Addabbo said. “It’s going to help businesses get a more productive employee.”  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who initially said there was “no appetite” in the legislature for paid family leave, has warmed up to the issue, and said, through a spokeswoman earlier this year that  he would sign an “acceptable version” that “that reconciles the obligations of family and work."

A measure by the leader of the Independent Democrats in the Senate, Jeff Klein, would use state funds to pay for the family leave program. It was in the Senate one house budget proposal, which was backed by majority party Republicans, but did not make it into the final state budget.

Senator Addabbo, who, as a Democrat, is in the minority in the Senate, says he hopes the governor will help push the issue.

“If we can all just go on the same page,” he said.

He says the chances are good for passage in 2016, an election year.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.