Colorado News Connection

February 6, 2018Available files: mp3 wav jpg

Groups Try Again for Paid Family Medical Leave Bill

Eric Galatas

DENVER - Colorado workers, small-business owners and some lawmakers plan to gather on the west steps of the State Capitol today in support of the Colorado FAMLI Act, a bill that would create a worker-financed paid family leave program.

Neha Mahajan, state director of the group 9to5 Colorado, says even though Colorado's economy is booming, many families are still living paycheck to paycheck. She says the new program would ensure that all workers have a baseline for economic security.

"They're not facing financial crisis when they have to take time off of work to bond with a new baby or an adopted child, for their own serious illness, for taking care of the serious illness of a family member and loved one," she explains.

She says workers would contribute from $2 to $5 a week to create an insurance pool that can be tapped for up to 12 weeks of partial wages in a calendar year. Similar measures have stalled in the past four sessions.

Critics of the idea say businesses should be free to set their own benefit policies and argue that the state should not be in the business of mandating paid-leave standards.

Mahajan says while some businesses can afford to offer paid leave, many can't, and a disproportionate number of families of color are falling through the gaps because of stagnant wages and rising costs of living.

She adds that states that already have family policies on the books have found parents with access to paid leave required less public assistance in the year following their child's birth compared with parents without access.

"And when we don't have universal standards, it creates incredible inequalities and inequities for our working families," she says. "And those who often need the paid leave the most are the ones who end up not getting it."

The United States is the only developed nation without a paid family-leave policy, and Mahajan notes one in four parents returns to work after two weeks of giving birth just to keep their heads above water.

The bill is expected to clear today's House Business Affairs and Labor Committee hearing. Mahajan says she expects the real battle to come in the State Senate.