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Assembly OKs paid family leave bill

ALBANY -- The Assembly Tuesday made its latest and strongest move to require employers to provide up to three months' paid family leave for parents taking care of newborns or a sick relative.

The Assembly passed a bill, by an 84-43 vote, to make employers and employees pay into a fund from which workers could draw. It would cover 12 weeks at about 66 percent of salary, with some limits.

"The lack of paid family leave is holding New York back," said the bill's sponsor, Assmb. Catherine Nolan (D-Queens), part of the women's caucus in the chamber that pushed the measure to the floor. "It adds to pay inequality and keep women out of the work force, which negatively impacts our families and our economy as a whole."

Critics, however, worried about the cost to employers and the potential pressure to raise employee contributions to worker's compensation insurance. "We must strike a balance between the interests of the employee and the interests of the employer," said Assmb. Carrie Woerner (D-Saratoga County). "This bill still needs some work."

Other versions of the groundbreaking proposal died in past years, although some new factors are at play in lobbying and negotiations behind closed doors over competing Assembly and Senate bills.

The Senate bill would require the state to pay $125 million for the first year, to avoid another burden on employers, for up to six weeks' leave at about half salary, with some limits.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo dismissed the Senate proposal as "half a loaf." That prompted Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) to blast out through a Facebook posting: "I say to you, Honey, bake your own bread! We are ready for this discussion, put your ideas on the table!"

Negotiations continue and could lead to a compromise within two weeks, especially if the deal is tied to myriad other issues in the negotiations over the budget, which is due April 1. Senate hearings planned for coming days are intended to turn up the heat.

In addition, the bill is no longer bound to Cuomo's 10-point women's agenda that included an abortion measure opposed by Senate Republicans, making paid family leave harder to argue against. Further, Cuomo won re-election in November based heavily on his women's agenda, including paid family leave, which could make a loss this year loom larger than in the past.

"New Yorkers should no longer have to choose between what their hearts are telling them and what their bank account tells them to do," said Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), leader of the Senate's Independent Democratic Conference which partners with Senate Republicans.

Senate Republicans had no comment.

Only California, New Jersey and Rhode Island provide workers with paid leave for family or medical purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.


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