Paid family and medical leave bill stalls in Nebraska Legislature

Paid family and medical leave bill stalls in Nebraska Legislature
State Sen. Michaela Cavanaugh works on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature while holding her son, Barrett Lee Brotzel, on Wednesday. MARTHA STODDARD/THE WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN — A bill to require paid family and medical leave for Nebraska workers stalled in the State Legislature on Wednesday.

Legislative Bill 311 lacked the required votes for debate to continue, and issue won’t come up again in 2019 unless sponsors can show they have close to the 33 votes needed to defeat an expected filibuster. That appears unlikely.

It marked the first time a paid family leave proposal had been debated by the full Legislature, but it ran into stiff opposition from senators who maintained it represented a tax increase and a mandate on businesses that was more appropriate in liberal states.

So far only three states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — have enacted similar laws.

The main supporters of LB 311, State Sens. Sue Crawford of Bellevue, Matt Hansen of Lincoln and Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, urged their colleagues to continue discussions, and if they oppose the bill, to work with them on a compromise to allow it to pass.

“We heard a lot of ‘of course I support family leave, but …’ ” Hansen said, urging constructive conversations.

Peru Sen. Julie Slama led the opposition, saying the surcharge required to fund paid family leave would cost $436 million a year, which is about what the Legislature is eyeing for property tax relief this year.

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene called the bill “a mandate” and “progressive socialism at its worst.”

Crawford said polls have shown 80 percent support for paid family leave, and the bill would allow employers, who can’t now afford to provide paid family leave, a chance to do that. It would also attract and keep “the best and brightest in our state.”

Under an amended version of LB 311, a family with a new child could take up to 12 weeks of paid leave, while those dealing with a serious medical problem or caring for a sick or elderly family member could take up to six weeks.

The leave would be funded much like unemployment insurance, with employers sending a portion of a worker’s paycheck to the state, creating a fund from which those taking leave would make claims to receive up to 66 percent of the state’s average wage — $567 a week.

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that $172 million a year in leave would be paid out by the fund, based on statistics from Rhode Island, which has a paid leave program. About 93 percent of Rhode Island’s leave was used for non-work-related injuries or illness, the fiscal note stated.

Crawford said that leave for a new baby or adopted child is essential for bonding and the health of a child. She said that a California study indicated that nursing home use declined by 11 percent after a family leave law was adopted there.

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