BOSTON, Mass. (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – A bill establishing paid family and medical leave hit a potentially costly speed bump Saturday, but the issue remains alive and will reemerge before the Senate next weekend.
Eligible employees would be eligible for up to 16 weeks of job-protected leave to recover from a significant illness or injury, or 26 weeks to care for a seriously ill family member or to care for a newborn child under a bill (H 4351) and Ways and Means Committee redraft (S 2446).
When the bill surfaced in the Senate Saturday just after 2 p.m., Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester moved that the 20 amendments filed to the bill be printed in the official Senate calendar, a procedural tactic that delays further consideration of the bill until the next formal session.
“There is a lot of support in the Senate for this and there are a lot of amendments pending which need fair consideration and it is not unreasonable to ask for some more time to consider those amendments and that’s what the leader asked for,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said. “We’ll be back at this issue again next week.”
Because so many Democrats, including Rosenberg, are traveling next week to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, the Senate is not holding another formal session until next Saturday, July 30 — which also happens to be the penultimate day for formal sessions this year.
Following a Democratic caucus Saturday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said it was “very, very, very doubtful” the House would consider a paid family and medical leave bill that comes over from the Senate so close to the July 31 end of formal sessions.
When asked if the Senate wanted to pass the bill this session in order to position it as a priority for the next session, Rosenberg said, “Very often it will take two or three sessions for a piece of legislation to make it all the way through the process.”
“We hope a lot of these things will get to the governor’s desk, whether it’s in this term, next term or the term that follows,” he added.
Tarr raised concerns about the cost of the benefits, suggesting it must have been a mistake for the Ways and Means Committee to propose a bill with expected startup costs of $2 million and that would require a bond authorization of $10 million while the state is facing a budget squeeze.
“We have been informed on many occasions by the chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means that the state does not have funds for programmatic expansion, so I’m guessing that this must somehow be a mistake,” Tarr said. “We have just gone through exercises of reducing spending and we will go through that this afternoon as well, so it appears that an error has been made here. We have been advised many times there is no funding available for programmatic expansion.”
Employees who have accrued at least 1,250 hours — or roughly 31 40-hour work weeks — of service to an employer would be eligible for the temporary leave. The bill would also require employers to restore an employee to their previous or “substantially similar” job upon returning from leave, according to a Senate Ways and Means Committee summary.
The temporary disability benefits would be equal to a percentage of the employee’s average weekly wages, capped at $1,000 per week. The bill sets the percentages at 50 percent as of Jan. 1, 2018, 70 percent as of Jan. 1, 2019 and 90 percent as of Jan. 1, 2020.
Deb Fastino, executive director of the Coalition for Social Justice and co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts, said in a statement the bill “would provide a critical safety net for workers and their families, help keep small businesses competitive, and strengthen our local economy.”
The partial wage replacement benefits would be paid out of a Family and Employment Security Trust Fund that would be created by the bill, and would be administered by a new Division of Family and Medical Leave in the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
The bill would require employers to make contributions to the trust fund to secure benefits for their employees, though they may require an employee provide up to 50 percent of the required contribution.
The Retailers Association of Massachusetts, in a letter from President Jon Hurst to members of the Senate, said the bill “would make Massachusetts a national outlier, add to the ever growing list of costly mandates imposed on employers within the Commonwealth, and further impede job and income growth as well as economic investment across the Commonwealth.”
“The high cost of doing business in Massachusetts already creates a significant competitive disadvantage for our employers. Labor costs are among the highest in the nation, resulting from the highest health insurance premiums in the country, soon the highest minimum wage, a loophole plagued unemployment insurance system, as well as a recently adopted paid sick leave law,” Hurst wrote. “These ever mounting costs threaten the ability of our businesses, small businesses in particular, to remain competitive and even stay in business.”Copyright 2016 STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE