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Paid Family Leave Gains Momentum in New York Legislature

Teddy Wilson

The bill’s Democratic supporters believe that the legislation, which has long been in the works, may finally pass the Republican-controlled state senate and be sent to the governor's desk.

People who work in New York and have a sick family member or a newborn child would be allowed to take paid time off under a bill passed Tuesday by the New York State Assembly.

The bill’s Democratic supporters believe that the legislation, which has long been in the works, may finally pass the Republican-controlled state senate and be sent to the governor’s desk.

A 03870, sponsored by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Queens), would allow the state’s workers to take paid leave because of injury, sickness, or pregnancy. People benefiting from the program would receive up to two-thirds of their regular pay, which would be funded through a “disability benefits fund” and an employee contribution of 45 cents per week.

The bill was passed by a 97-48 vote, mostly along partisan lines with one Republican voting in favor and one Democrat voting against.

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Republicans were critical of the legislation and charged that people who work would abuse the benefit. Assemblyman Andy Goodell (R-Chautauqua) raised concerns that it may hurt companies and corporations.

“We need to be very careful that we don’t put ourselves in a situation where we punish those employers,” Goodell said, reported the Associated Press.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last week appeared with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during the launch of the “Strong Families, Strong New York” campaign for paid family leave.

“There are times in life when family comes first—like when a child is born, a loved one is sick, or a parent is dying—and I believe everyone deserves the right to be there in those times,” Cuomo said, reported United Press International.

Cuomo during his state of the state address in January said that the legislature should “pass family leave this session,” and endorsed 12 weeks of paid family leave “paid for by employees.”

However, the legislation passed by the assembly differs from Cuomo’s original proposal. The governor’s plan would have provided workers with up to one-third of their regular pay, and be funded entirely by the workers through a weekly payroll deduction of 60 cents.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told Politico New York in January that lawmakers would work to bring the bill closer to the governor’s proposal in the assembly.

“It’s a little different than what we believe paid family leave should be,” Heastie said. “That’s been a signature thing we’ve passed as a conference, and we’ll look to have it look like the way we prefer it to be.”

Amy Traub, senior policy analyst at Demos, a public policy organization, told the Public News Service that the vast majority of people who work in New York would benefit from paid family leave.

“There are 6.4 million New York workers who don’t receive paid family leave from their employers,” Traub said. “That’s a tremendous proportion of the state’s workforce that just don’t have this critical family support.”

Rhode Island, New Jersey, and California have implemented similar family leave laws to the proposal that was passed by New York Democrats, and those laws have greatly benefited people who work while having a minimum impact on businesses, according to a policy study co-authored by Traub.

The study found that when paid leave is available, mothers are less likely to drop out of the labor force when they have a baby, and that their family’s income increases. “We also find that paid leave improves child health outcomes, including reducing infant mortality rates, and it’s associated with better health outcomes among new mothers, as well,” Traub told the Public News Service.

People who work are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid family leave under federal law.

Eric Williams, campaign director for the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign, told the Public News Service that there may be the votes to pass the bill in the the state senate, where the Republican majority has repeatedly blocked similar legislation.

“The majority leader and the labor chair said they’re open to seeing a paid family leave bill done,” Williams said. “So, we want to work with everybody and get a strong bill passed that works for all workers around the state.”

Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) told WRVO that he’s open to discussing paid family leave and prefers Cuomo’s original proposal to have the program funded by people who work. “It’s a good start,” Flanagan said. “A lot of our members care very deeply about that.”

The bill has been referred to the New York State Senate Labor Committee, where it awaits further action.

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