Senate Approves Paid Family Leave Bill

TRENTON – On Monday, the state Senate approved a bill which would provide paid family leave benefits for workers caring for sick family members and newborn or newly adopted children. The measure passed by a vote of 21 to 15, and now heads to the governor, who has said he will sign it into law.

“As a mother of 4, I understand what it means to have to leave a new baby, and go back to work,” said Senator Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, a sponsor of the bill. “This legislation would allow new parents to spend precious time bonding with their newborns. Similarly, this legislation would allow a son to take off time to care for his ailing mother, or a wife to spend the few remaining days with her dying husband. Situations like these are life’s realities, but paid family leave legislation would help to make such important family time possible.”

Supporters of the bill say the new program will be a boon to New Jersey families.

The bill would authorize up to six weeks of employee-paid family leave (family temporary disability leave) during any 12 month period, during which an employee could take time off to care for an ill family member, or a newborn or recently adopted child. Employees would receive two-thirds of their weekly salary, up to $524 per week.

Workers would have to exhaust maternity and disability leave time prior to being eligible for paid family leave. Workers would also have to use at least two weeks of sick leave and vacation time before using paid family leave time, according to the bill.

Workers seeking leave time would be required to provide their employers with prior notice of the need for leave time, along with a doctor’s note listing details of the need for the time off. Companies with fewer than 50 employees do not have to hold jobs for employees who take paid family leave time.

“According to an Eagleton Institute poll, 78 percent of state residents support paid family leave legislation. Paid family leave gives parents an opportunity to pay their bills while they care for a sick child,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester.)

“As our economy struggles, it is especially important that lawmakers put in place these basic family-friendly policies to help working families avoid financial catastrophe when illness strikes or new babies come,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.  “Paid leave laws are also good for businesses, helping them retain the skilled workers they have trained,” she said.

Opponents argue that the measure would increase the cost of doing business in New Jersey and drive some employers to take jobs elsewhere.

The program would be financed by a new payroll tax on New Jersey workers. Beginning next Jan. 1, employees would be required to contribute 0.14% of their earned wages to the State Disability Fund, which would then deposit the money into a fund reserved exclusively for the Family Leave program. In 2010, the percentage would increase to 0.18%, which equates to a maximum employee contribution of about $33 a year. For someone making minimum wage, the employee contribution would equal roughly 25 cents a week.

“By passing this legislation, we are ensuring that New Jersey puts the needs of families on a par with the needs of businesses,” said Buono.

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