Governor Chafee signs Rhode Island Temporary Caregivers Insurance into law!July 24, 2013
by Wendy Chun-Hoon
Rhode Island celebrated yesterday as Governor Lincoln Chafee signed Temporary Caregivers Insurance (TCI) into law. Families, lawmakers, advocates and TV crews packed into the State Room for this historic event.
The new law means workers can take up to four weeks leave from their job while they care for a seriously ill family member or welcome a new child. It makes taking this time affordable for families by providing workers with two-thirds of their wages while they’re out. Rhode Island joins California and New Jersey as the third state to pass a family leave law, but is the first in the nation that guarantees job security for all workers taking such leave.
Just before the ceremony began, Leanne Barrett of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, a member group of the broad-based WE Care for Rhode Island coalition who made TCI their number one priority this session, said to me, “I just keep thinking, this law will have impact for kids and families for decades to come.”
The leadership behind this effort was powerful because it came from all over. I finally met Renay Omisore, whose story I had heard. Renay and other leaders from the Women’s Policy Institute (sponsored by the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island who led the WECareRI coalition) are in many ways responsible for cracking this issue wide open in the public’s eye, demonstrating the urgency behind passing TCI.
In 2011, Renay’s son – a police officer, husband of a kindergarten teacher, and father of two young children – was nearly killed when a driver hit his motorcycle three days before Christmas. Renay brought her personal experience into the public’s consciousness, and rightly called for a systemic solution to the challenge all families face occasionally in their lifetimes.
Renay recalls telling her son while in the hospital, “I said, ‘I have to leave you now because I have to work. But we’ll be back here in a couple of days because you know we love you.’ Those are some of the hardest words to say during any of this.”
It wasn’t just families telling their stories. It was lawmakers, too, including lead sponsors of the bill, Senator Gayle Goldin who talked about how a freak accident that left her with a broken back nearly bankrupted her family, and Representative Elaine Coderre who spoke about her own family cobbling resources to keep her mother, recently diagnosed with Alzheimers and cancer, safe and secure and in their home instead of in an institution. One by one, each speaker underscored why this law is a win for families, win for employers and win for Rhode Island’s economy.
One of the most powerful expressions came during the final debate on the House floor from Representative Frank Ferri, owner of Town Hall Lanes, a duckpin bowling place in Johnson, RI. He told fellow legislators who pontificated about how this would hurt Rhode Island: “I’ve been to every economic summit in RI this year to get our economy back on track. I’m a small business owner and I support this. This is a family bill. We’re talking about minimum wage earners. We haven’t done much for them in years. Most of these folks don’t have paid sick leave either. Most can’t afford to put their family members in nursing homes, nor is this good for our state. TCI is the right thing to do for Rhode Island and our families.”
Rhode Island made history yesterday. And the impact for Rhode Islanders will be felt for decades to come. Today, however, and in the immediate future, Rhode Island’s law is shaping policy discussions at the federal level and in states like New York and Washington who’ve introduced legislation, and in Connecticut, Vermont, Hawaii, and New Hampshire whose legislatures have set up task forces to look into building similar programs.