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Paid family leave advances in the New York Assembly

Karen DeWitt
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaks about the New York State Assembly's bill to provide workers with paid family leave.

The New York State Assembly approved a one-house bill to establish partial paid family leave in New York as Gov. Andrew Cuomo signaled he will amend his proposal to provide more money to those who take the leave.

Advocates of paid family leave, who have been lobbying on the issue for years, say movement on the matter from the Assembly Democrats and Cuomo has given them new hope. Donna Dolan leads a coalition.

“It’s appropriate we’re here on Groundhog Day,” Dolan said, to laughter form the assembled activists and lawmakers. “Since we’ve been coming back year after year for paid family leave.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the Democrats’ bill uses the existing Temporary Disability Fund to give workers up to 2/3 of their pay to care for a sick family member or bond with a new born.  

“The United States remains the only industrialized nation in the world to not offer paid family leave or sick leave,” Heastie said. “That is unconscionable.”

And, in keeping with the Groundhog Day theme popularized in the movie starring Bill Murray, the Assembly approved the one-house measure for the fifth year in a row.

Cuomo announced for the first time in his State of the State message that he too will support a form of paid family leave, saying his late father’s final illness made him realize its importance.

“At the end of day, family matters,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo’s original plan would be funded by the workers themselves and would provide 1/3 of an employee’s pay, rising to half of their pay in a few years. After critics said that’s not enough, Cuomo indicated he’ll amend his plan to make it more generous, as first reported in Politco New York. A Cuomo administration official confirms that the new proposal calls for a worker taking family leave to be paid 2/3 of their regular salary for up to 12 weeks.

Advocates say 2/3 pay is the minimum that’s acceptable in order for most families to take advantage of the plan.   

Heastie, asked about the potential amendments to the governor’s bill, said he still thinks the Assembly measure is better because it provides enough money so that low-wage workers can also take advantage of the benefit.

Opponents, speaking on the Assembly floor, did not deny that there’s a need for some form of paid family leave. But Assemblyman Tom McKevitt, a Republican from Long Island, said he’s concerned that under the Assembly Democrats’ bill, the payout from the state’s temporary disability fund would rise too steeply and be too costly.

“My concern with this bill is how quickly it increases,” McKevitt said.

In the Senate, Republican Leader John Flanagan said he’s open to talking about paid family leave and likes that the governor’s plan is funded by the workers.

“It’s a good start,” Flanagan said. “A lot of our members care very deeply about that.”

Business groups worry about added costs in a year where the governor and Assembly Democrats are also pressing for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

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.