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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Family leave bill may move in state Senate after years of opposition


A bill that would require all employers to provide up to three months of paid family leave to workers for the birth of a child or to care for a seriously ill relative is finding an opening in the Senate where it had been blocked for years by the Republican majority.

“I believe the stars are in alignment to get it done this year,” said Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), head of the influential Independent Democratic Conference.

His bill avoids the Senate Republicans’ main objections that paid family leave would be another costly mandate on employers, which could drive jobs out of New York. Instead, all workers would pay about $35 a year — 20 cents a week — into a fund that would compensate workers for part of their pay while on family leave.

Klein’s bill is similar to the paid family leave proposal Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. This year, Cuomo has put the policy into his executive budget proposal. That gives the measure far better chances of surviving legislative negotiations because lawmakers are limited under budget rules in its power to change budget bills. Cuomo is also making the effort personal this time, citing the recent death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and starting a renewed effort beside Vice President Joe Biden in January.

In most years, paid family leave would face especially long odds in a session like this one in which Senate Republicans might also have to accept compromise on a big priority by Cuomo and the Assembly Democrats to raise the $9 minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In January, however, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) gave supporters some hope by calling paid family leave “an important subject. . . . Clearly, Senator Klein makes it a top priority.”

Klein’s IDC is part of a coalition with Senate Republicans that is becoming increasingly important to the GOP. Republicans have a narrow majority and sometimes need the IDC’s votes to pass bills. This election year, Senate Republicans are already losing incumbents in at least two seats. If Republicans lose those seats, the majority could swing to the mainline Democratic conference, unless Republicans continue its coalition with the IDC.

Paid family leave is also becoming more popular. On Monday a Siena College poll found is supported by 80 percent of voters. That included 69 percent of Republicans.

On Tuesday, the Assembly’s Democratic majority added pressure by passing its bill, which would provide a worker with two-thirds of his or her salary — potentially more than under the proposals by Cuomo or Klein.

Of the business operators opposed to the plan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told reporters: “They need to have a heart.”

But as it has in past unsuccessful years, the Assembly bill relies on an increased cost to be paid by employers into the existing Temporary Disability Insurance Fund.

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