Paid family leave could soon be reality in Colorado

DENVER -- The idea of paid family leave was a major pillar of the Democratic agenda that won convincingly in Colorado on election night.

Governor-elect Jared Polis supports it, as do most Democrats in the newly elected General Assembly.

What is it? 

Current federal law mandates you can keep your job if you need to take time off from work to care for yourself or a loved one if they are sick or just gave birth. It does not, however, mandate you should be paid.

Officially legislation for the 2019 proposal has yet to be released,but based off of the 2018 bill, it would look like this:

Colorado workers would pay a "fee" to the state to create a family leave insurance program.

The contribution would be less than 1 percent of an individual's yearly salary.

When a family member is sick or a new baby is born, employees could then request benefits from the state. The benefits would be different for each Coloradan depending on income and only represent a fraction of what you would earn back at work full time.

The 2018 legislation capped benefits at 12 weeks.

At the Denver Diner downtown, Sarah Martinez, a server, said the law would benefit people like her. She just gave birth to a baby in August.

"I didn't get paid for my maternity leave and what I had in my pocket is what I got to take home with me that day," Martinez said.

Would voters need to approve it?

Right now, it appears Democrats are looking at crafting paid family leave as a "fee" and not a "tax." That is significant. In Colorado, under TABOR laws, any tax needs voter approval. Fees do not.

"I think they are structuring the family leave bill as a fee," State Senator Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City) said.

Moreno is the chair of the state's Joint Budget Committee. Moreno acknowledged the classification of new revenue repeatedly as fees make him, and others, uneasy.

"If you are getting something in return, then it can be considered a fee," Moreno said.

Conservative thinking

Conservatives have objected to the idea in the past. It remains unclear if that will change in 2019.

"Anytime you increase taxes, there is a downside," said Hadley Heath Manning, a policy analyst with Independent Women Forum, a conservative think tank.

Heath Manning says both sides of the aisle want workers to spend more time with their family, but risks are associated with creating new entitlements.

She worries about the Colorado worker who doesn't want children or doesn't have any living parents left. How would they benefit from this?

"If you are childless and don't plan on adding to the size of your family, then maybe having a maternity or paternity leave isn't a benefit you are interested in," Heath Manning said.

She said her organization and others have endorsed a proposal by Senator Marco Rubio to address this federally. Rubio's proposed legislation would allow people to tap into Social Security retirement benefits to create paid family leave.

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