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Paid family leave advocates look to the new year

Karen DeWitt
Frances Rosenau, a Presbyterian minister, carried her baby as she spoke at a press conference in support of paid family leave in Albany last week

Advocates for paid family leave in New York say they hope 2016 is the year that the state finally provides a program to allow workers to take time off to care for a child, or a sick elderly relative.

The effort includes nurses, advocates for the mentally ill, the League of Women Voters and the New York Civil Liberties Union, who say everyone has an interest in seeing paid family leave become law.  The AARP’s Derrick Holmes says it’s a multi-generational issue encompassing the elderly,  baby boomers and Generation X-ers.

Frances Rosenau, a Presbyterian minister with the Labor Religion Coalition, carried her small child with her as she spoke at a press conference in Albany last week.

“What do we say to parents who want more than anything to be with their children, but who have to go back to work instead?” Rosenau asked.

Bill Ferris, with AARP, says a bill has passed the Assembly. It would allow up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year to care for a new born or a family member with a serious health condition. Workers would not receive their entire regular paycheck, but would get two-thirds of their average weekly wage. The employee and the employer would pay into the existing Temporary Disability Insurance  fund. Advocates say it would cost less than a dollar a week. The measure is stalled in the state Senate. Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference listed paid family leave as a budget priority, but did not approve the legislation.

The advocates  hope Gov. Andrew Cuomo will champion the issue this year. Cuomo earlier this year signed into law a package of bills that he called the Women’s Equality Act, but paid family leave was not among them. The governor said last spring that he saw no appetite in the legislature for the measure. Ferris says he hopes the governor changes his mind.

“We’re asking him to lead on the issue,” Ferris said.

Business Council of New York State President Heather Briccetti, has said her group is open to the concept. But the Business Council opposes the current legislation passed in the Assembly, saying the bill “places the state government in the role of dictating terms and conditions of employment for private sector.” The group also says it would inappropriately use the existing disability benefit fund for another purpose.

Greg Biryla, with the pro-business group Unshackle Upstate, said earlier in the year that the program would be particularly burdensome for small employers who are already faced with high worker compensation costs, and for some, a phase-in of a $15 an hour minimum wage.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the administration supports paid family leave, but did not say whether the governor would work for passage of a bill.

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.