Talks active, but still no consensus on paid leave law delay

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House, Senate and Baker administration officials are still actively discussing whether they could agree to delay the rollout of the paid family and medical leave law for three months beyond July 1 without passing a bill this week, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

Senate President Karen Spilka said Thursday that she was “hopeful” that the delay could still be approved, despite Gov. Charlie Baker this week giving legislators a deadline of Friday to decide and Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday calling it “very doubtful.”

Baker also made clear Thursday that he backs a delay, which was requested May 20 by a coalition of business and labor groups, going further than he did on Monday when he simply encouraged legislative leaders to make up their mind.

“After hearing from the coalition and stakeholders involved in creation of the PFML program, our Administration supports a three-month delay,” Baker said in a statement.

“Current law requires the program to go into effect July first and employers require significant lead time to adjust payroll operations, as most employers use a two week pay period.  We are eager to work with the Legislature on a delay and are prepared to act quickly so that employers can have adequate time to prepare,” he said.

Multiple sources told the News Service Thursday that leaders are pursuing a creative, if unusual, solution to the fact that no bill has been filed and they’re running out of time to give businesses certainty.

The talks between the top two Democrats on Beacon Hill and Gov. Baker are preliminary, but center around the idea of a joint statement that would come from DeLeo and Spilka, with the governor’s support, pledging to take action to delay the start of a payroll tax next month.

The statement, according to two sources, would buy legislative leaders some time to agree on a delay bill, along with other changes to the law, but still allow employers to plan and notify their employees.

A payroll tax to cover the expense of the $800 million paid leave program is due to go into effect on July 1.

“I don’t think there’s any agreement that that’s how everyone wants to move forward,” said one Senate official about the state of the negotiations.

Spilka, after the Senate adjourned for the week on Thursday, acknowledged that talks are ongoing.

“We have been looking at it. I’ve been in discussions with the speaker and the governor. We’ve been in contact with the business groups and the Raise Up coalition and I know the full coalition supports it,” Spilka said. “There are two other clarifications and the $3.5 million to fully implement it, so I am hopeful that we’ll be able to do that.”

In addition to the three-month delay, Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Raise Up coalition in a May 22 letter to legislative leaders requested amendments to the law to align state law with federal leave policies.

The group also supports a $3.5 million appropriation requested by Baker in February in a mid-year spending bill to help the new Department of Family and Medical Life conduct outreach to employers and individuals about the new tax and benefits.

Baker on Monday said his administration had “done the work to be ready,” but told legislative Democrats that if they were going to go along with the delay it needed to be done this week.

In response to that deadline, DeLeo on Wednesday said the House had no plans to take up the delay this week, and called it “very doubtful” that they’d be able to consider the request because there hadn’t even been a bill filed to hold a hearing and review.

He did not, however, shut the door completely, and Rep. Paul Brodeur, chair of the Labor and Economic Development Committee, said there still might be interest among House lawmakers to consider the full package of reforms.

“Speaker says no delay in PFMLA despite universal support of advocates – too bad. I disagree, if there was a will there was a way to get this done. It shouldn’t be that complicated or that difficult,” Minority Leader Brad Jones Tweeted.

Both Associated Industries of Massachusetts and Raise Up declined to comment after the speaker’s comment, and have continued to engage with lawmakers over possible solution.

The House and Senate adjourned for the week on Thurday, scheduling informal sessions for Monday morning.

The new law will provide workers with up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service.

It also authorizes up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker’s own serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member.

Many of the benefits provided for in the law, including parental leave, will become available to workers beginning in 2021, and the proposed delay would not impact the start date of any benefits.

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