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NY Paid Family Leave Supporters Hope 2016 Will Be Their Year

(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Supporters of paid family leave in New York hope 2016 will be their year, but business groups are urging caution.  

A bill that would allow all workers in the state 12 weeks of paid leave to take care of a new baby or sick family member was approved in the State Assembly, and two bills gained support in the State Senate, but the issue fell by the wayside in the end of session rush to pass bills and adjourn for the summer. 

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Joseph Addabbo of Queens, said he thinks it’s not a question of if the measure will pass, but when. 

“This is going to happen,” Addabbo said. “There’s such momentum going on.” 

He says it’s become a “national movement” with President Obama discussing it, and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand pressing for federal paid family leave. 

Addabbo’s bill, which is sponsored by Cathy Nolan in the Assembly, draws on the state’s temporary disability insurance program to pay for the program. Employees would have to pay what Addabbo said is a small amount, and the program itself would be upgraded to offer larger weekly payments. 

Business groups, though, are objecting.

“It’s a one size fits all mandate,” said Greg Biryla, Executive Director of Unshackle Upstate. “That’s particularly burdensome for small employers.” 

Biryla says even the federal Medical Leave Act, which allows unpaid leave, exempts businesses with less than 50 employees. He says small businesses are already “underwater” from high worker’s compensation costs, taxes, and the new measure by the Cuomo administration to phase in a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage. 

“You can’t talk about a new mandate without understanding the larger context,” he said. 

Biryla said that, at the very least, an impact study should be conducted before going further. 

But Addabbo says California has had paid family leave for nearly a decade, and New Jersey has also instituted up to 12 weeks paid leave since 2009. Businesses in those states have not been shown to be harmed, and a report found that nearly 90 percent of employers said it had no effect or was even a positive factor, because Addabbo said it reduces stress on employees faced with having to care for a family member at home, because they will no longer have to lose their paychecks, too. He said he’s willing to talk to business groups about their concerns, but does not believe it will be an undue burden.  

“This is not a job killer,” Addabbo said. “It’s going to help businesses get a more productive employee.” 

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who initially said there was “no appetite” in the legislature for paid family leave, has warmed up to the issue, and said, through a spokeswoman earlier this year,  that he would sign an “acceptable version” that “that reconciles the obligations of family and work.” A bill introduced by the leader of the Independent Democrats in the Senate, Jeff Klein, would use state funds to pay for the family leave program. It was in the Senate budget proposal, which was backed by majority party Republicans, but did not make it into the final state budget. 

Addabbo said he hopes the governor will help push the issue. 

“If we can all just go on the same page,” he said.  

He said the chances are good for passage in 2016, an election year.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.