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Almost No Chance for Override of Christie’s Family Leave Veto

Nicole Knight

“Based on how Gov. Christie gutted this pro-worker bill, it seems best at this point to try again when we have a governor who respects the needs of New Jersey’s working families."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is the least popular governor in state history, but prospects for overriding his Friday veto of paid leave legislation look dim.

Democrats, who hold both chambers of the state legislature, would need Republicans to join them to override Christie’s veto of the bill expanding the state’s paid family leave program.

The bill made more workers eligible for paid leave and at a higher rate. It doubled the paid leave benefit period to 12 weeks, lifted the wage replacement rate from two-thirds to 90 percent of average weekly wages, provided job protections, and extended the benefit to more workers, including domestic violence survivors.

Christie, in his veto message, called the provisions a costly expansion, and suggested scrapping nearly all of the bill.

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“Based on how Gov. Christie gutted this pro-worker bill, it seems best at this point to try again when we have a governor who respects the needs of New Jersey’s working families,” Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson) said in a statement to Rewire.

The paid leave benefits are funded solely by workers through a payroll deduction of about 50 cents per week up to $34 annually, according to Prieto, the bill’s sponsor.

Jon Whiten, vice president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, said a veto override was “99.999 percent sure to fail.”

“Despite his unpopularity, [Christie] has retained that kind of control over the GOP caucus,” Whiten told Rewire. “What this really does is tees up legislation for a new administration.”

Christie has about six months left on his final term. Whiten said the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy backs paid leave expansion. And while the Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagnohasn’t weighed in, “I see no reason why she wouldn’t support it,” Whiten said.

A poll out Friday put Christie’s approval rating at 16 percent, with 73 percent of residents—including 58 percent of Christie’s fellow Republicans—recording disapproval of the two-term governor’s job performance, as NJ.com reported.

Whiten said the expansion legislation was needed because families with low incomes find it difficult to afford to take paid leave at a rate capped at the current $633 per week. In comparison, California’s weekly cap is $1,173 and Rhode Island’s is $817.

Only 12 percent of the state’s eligible new parents receive state family leave benefits, according to a recent report from New Jersey Policy Perspective.

The United States lacks a national paid family and medical leave program. Only 13 percent of all private sector workers and 6 percent of low-wage workers have access to paid family leave, according to the most recent Department of Labor statistics.

A study of New Jersey’s paid leave program by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found few residents knew about the paid leave benefits, and those who did faced barriers to using the program, such as onerous applications and slow payments. Only 155,000 New Jersey residents used the program in its first five years to care for a new child or a sick relative.

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