With newfound Republican support, could 2016 be the year for paid family leave?

With newfound Republican support, could 2016 be the year for paid family leave?

October 23, 2015

Amid a growing national conversation, state Senate Republicans are showing renewed support for a paid family leave program in New York, which could be the push the issue needs to pass during the 2016 legislative session.

The Assembly has repeatedly passed its own version of a bill on paid family leave, but it has long hit a wall in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“Over a dozen years the Assembly has passed the bill probably six or seven times,” said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s great (the Senate has) come to the table after 12 years. I appreciate their interest, but we are certainly very interested in our own bill – but the door never closes to compromise.”

Nolan’s paid family leave bill, co-sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr., would expand the state’s temporary disability insurance program to include care of new children and family members. Employers with more than 50 employees would be required to offer a paid family leave benefit and employees would contribute up to 45 cents per week to fund the program. The bill would ensure up to 12 weeks of paid family leave and cover two-thirds of the worker’s salary while guaranteeing job security.

Currently, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

In recent weeks, both state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and state Senate Labor Committee Chair Jack Martins have expressed tentative support for paid family leave. A recent poll found a growing number of Republican constituents support the idea.

During the 2015 legislative session, state Senate Republicans included a proposal in their one-house budget that would allow for six weeks of paid leave for new parents and those caring for seriously ill relatives, but the plan was rejected by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as being too heavily reliant on state funding.

“Certainly New York has benefitted from having a temporary disability insurance program, which has been in place for a while, which allows it to piggyback on that construct for a paid family leave,” Martins said. “It’s not just about passing the bill, it’s about making sure everyone is on the same page and that we’re passing the best possible bill. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”

Both Nolan and Martins cautioned that any deal on paid family leave means hammering out the details, including how the program will be funded, the length of the paid leave and the percentage of the salary workers will receive while on leave.

“All of these details are important and I’m looking forward to having these discussions. Frankly, I had hoped we’d have these discussions in the past,” Martins said, adding he has not yet begun discussions with his Assembly counterpart. “I have spoken to some advocates and I think there are some things we can do there. I’ve also spoken to the governor’s office about paid family leave and how we can hopefully build some consensus about it and hopefully give it a real good shot of passing this next year.”

A spokesperson for the Assembly Democratic conference reiterated its commitment to passing paid family leave.

“New Yorkers should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and taking care of their families,” spokesman Mike Whyland said in a statement. “It’s time for the Senate to stand on the side of working families and join us to enact a strong law.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Compromise is important, but I also stand by the principles of our bill,” Nolan said. “We certainly welcome majority interest, but Sen. Addabbo happens to be my senator, as well, and it’s a big issue in our area. We’re not trying to abandon our colleagues in the Senate minority. It’s a very tight vote over there. I’m sure there will be senators in both parties for and against.”

Both Nolan and Martins said a discussion about paid family leave will include larger talks about the state’s temporary disability insurance program. Martins said the two issues go “hand in hand,” and the fact that the temporary disability insurance stipend has not been increased in more than 20 years needs to be addressed.

“I am hopeful. I think that if everyone is reasonable it will happen,” Martins said. “Unfortunately, more often than not, as much as we can agree on the concept, the details are what are important. I’m looking forward to sitting down with the governor’s office and the Assembly to build consensus around a paid family leave program and an enhanced (temporary disability insurance) program that makes sense.”

Ashley Hupfl