N.J. Senate approves paid leave

April 7, 2008 3:24:16 PM PDT
New Jersey on Monday moved to become the third state to require companies to offer paid leave to workers wishing to care for a new child or sick relative. The state Senate voted 21-15 to approve the bill that would offer up to six weeks paid leave. The Assembly approved the Democratic plan last month and Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine said he'll soon sign it.

Corzine on Monday said his experience recovering from a near-fatal April 12 car crash last year reinforced his support.

Corzine's children spent weeks helping him recover, but Corzine is a multimillionaire from his stint at Goldman Sachs and said he realizes most families don't have the financial resources his family enjoys to take time from work.

"People are served well by having their families near them and supportive of them in times of great stress," Corzine said.

But the measure is opposed by Republicans and business groups who decried the vote.

"Legislators and the governor seem to think our residents and employers have deep pockets and unlimited resources to fund their bloated bureaucracy, when that is far from the case," said Jim Leonard of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. "This madness has to end."

Nora Muchanic will have live report from Trenton tonight on Action News at 5 p.m.

Under the plan, which is backed heavily by organized labor, parents could take paid leave anytime in the first year after a child's birth or adoption.

Workers would be allowed to take paid leave to care for a sick relative receiving inpatient care in a medical care facility or under continuing supervision from a health care provider. A health provider could also certify a sick relative needs help at home.

The program would be paid for through a payroll deduction that legislative officials estimate would cost workers $33 per year. Workers who take leave would get two-thirds of their salary, up to $524 per week, with an estimated average weekly benefit of $415.

"This bill would signify a new day for the state's work force, in that, the needs of families will be put before the needs of business owners," said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, the bill's leading backer.

But opponents liken the payroll deduction to a tax, and they fear it will increase if the program doesn't earn enough money to meet its needs.

"This impose a tax on every employer in our state and continues to lay the groundwork for the exodus of citizens and employers," said Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth.

New Jersey would adopt similar policies to those in California and Washington state. Federal law allows some workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

California allows workers to take up to six weeks paid leave under a 2004 law. Most who have taken leave in the state have done so to care for a newborn, and more women have taken it than men.

Washington state has approved allowing workers to take five weeks paid leave starting in October 2009, but the program could start late because lawmakers haven't decided how to pay for it.

Corzine said he wasn't convinced the paid leave would hurt businesses.

"The experience in California just doesn't jive with that, and I'm very sensitive to business interests," Corzine said.

Sweeney recalled how his daughter spent 75 days in intensive care after she was born four months premature.

"I had an understanding employer, but I can't say the same for all of New Jersey's workers," said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

The state estimates 38,000 workers annually would take paid leave. New Jersey has 4.1 million workers.