Lake Stevens Journal - Your hometown newspaper since 1960

 

By Zoey Palmer
Contributing Writer 

House bill adds funding, expands coverage for working families

 

February 19, 2013



Paid medical leave for new parents may remain an unfulfilled goal if a bill in the state Senate becomes law.

Senate Bill 5159, sponsored by Sen. John Braun (R-20th District, Chehalis), would repeal Washington’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (FLI), which requires employers to pay $250 per week to employees who are on family leave.

Two other bills, one in each house, are proposed that would expand FLI coverage.

Reflecting on SB 5159, Braun told members of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor in a public hearing last week, “This Act was one of good intentions, but it’s one that we never properly funded.”

FLI was passed in 2007, but implementation was delayed in 2009 and again in 2011 because funding to start the program could not be secured. FLI is still unfunded, but is slated to go into effect in 2015 if not repealed.

Washington currently provides unpaid leave for new parents, including adoptive parents, under the Washington Family and Medical Leave Act of 2006 (FLA). FLA is an extension of a similar federal law.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave for both parents, while Washington’s law can provide up to 24 weeks depending on medical needs. Both laws also cover leave taken to care for a seriously ill family member and ensure that the employee may return to work in the same position or a position of equal responsibility, pay and benefits.

Neither the federal law nor Washington’s FLA law provide paid family leave.

Women and immigrants especially need paid family leave, said Emily Murphy of the immigrant advocacy group OneAmerica, because they disproportionately work in fields where pay and benefits are low, such as retail, construction and hospitality.

“Family and medical leave insurance is critical for our members who give their lives to their jobs, working for decades in grueling physical conditions,” said Murphy.

Some business-owners say that having the law in place, but unimplemented, is an uncertainty that makes hiring new workers unattractive. They want it removed.

“They don’t know what it’s going to cost, they don’t know how it’s going to be funded, they don’t know if they’re going to be taxed or how much they would be taxed; it is an unknown,” said Independent Business Association Executive Director Gary Smith.

Erin Shannon, Small Business Director for the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think-tank which supports repeal, said that businesses may cut non-mandated benefits to make up for the cost.

 

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