Sen. Winter Confident Paid Leave Bill Will Pass This Time

Proposed legislation expands definition of ‘family,’ joins more than a dozen other states in introducing bills

Sen. Faith Winter has sponsored paid family and medical leave bills three times in past legislative sessions. But this year, she’s confident the latest yet-to-be-introduced version will pass.

She said the the goal is to introduce the bill the week of Feb. 25. Winter said as a result of stakeholder feedback, this year’s version broadens the definition of “family” from past iterations of the bill. According to an unedited and unrevised draft, the measure defines “family member” to include a covered employee’s immediate family member, domestic partner and “any other individual whose close association with the covered individual is the equivalent of a familial relationship.”

Winter said past versions of the bill defined “family” more traditionally, but said the latest definition considers the reality that non-traditional families are common.

Nearly two dozen other states have introduced bills for paid family leave just this year. They aren’t concentrated in any particular region, stretching from Oregon to Maine. And the different components to consider in drafting paid leave laws are just as varied. Just a few major parts include what types of leave to cover, how much to pay out in benefits and whether to have a completely state-administered program or allow exceptions for employers to provide their own leave programs.

Leave laws commonly cover paid time off for a personal health condition or caring for a family member. Other types of leave increasing in popularity include time off for grieving and for dealing with trauma associated with sexual assault and domestic violence, from medical care to court proceedings.

Winter said figuring out how to administer both the new bill’s leave program and the Family and Medical Leave Act’s leave while trying to minimize confusion was one of the most technical aspects of drafting the bill. Under the program, known as the FAMLI Act, employers and employees each pay half of the premiums that fund the leave program.

The bill would cap employee contributions at the first $80,000 in pay each year, and the benefits paid out per year are capped at the same amount. According to the bill draft, employees can receive benefits for 12 weeks during a 52-week period. Winter added employees may have the possibility to take an additional four weeks for a separate leave reason, such as 12 weeks for personal health reasons plus four more if a family member needs care.

The bill does not include any carveouts for employers to provide their own voluntary paid leave programs, such as exemptions or tax credits. Winter said some businesses already offering paid leave asked for carve-outs, but others have been pleased with the idea of a state-funded program because it will reduce their costs of the programs they already offer.

“We feel really strongly that universal coverage is important, and that it gets more complex and confusing if you start having carveouts and opt-outs,” Winter said.

According to the bill draft, the definition of “employer” includes those who employ at least one person. The scope differs from the FMLA, which applies to employers with 50 or more employees.

“It’s an insurance pool, and insurance works best when everyone’s in,” Winter said. “You start opting people out, then you’re going to have a smaller pool, and it’s going to cost everyone more.” She added small businesses that haven’t been able to afford it.

Winter said Colorado’s group of supporters for paid family leave legislation grows each time a bill is introduced. As an example, she said, the National Federation of Independent Business has taken a neutral position on the latest bill after opposing paid leave legislation in the past. Supporters include groups ranging from domestic violence coalitions to childcare providers.

By contrast, Winter said the group of opposers has remained consistent, including the Chambers of Commerce and the Colorado Civil Justice League. But she said discussions about their concerns have gotten more nuanced over the years. Particular sticking points include ease of implementation and worry over abuse of the system.

“The first time it was just … this is awful and this is going to destroy the world, and now it’s more nuanced,” she said.

She said she’s had conversations with people have shared moving stories about the pressures they’ve faced to keep working to through serious personal health issues or family tragedies, such as a woman who had to return to work immediately after her chemotherapy treatments because she couldn’t afford to take unpaid time off or lose her job. “I don’t think we should be making people make the decision to go to chemotherapy or keep their job,” Winter said. “We can do better than that.”

— Julia Cardi

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