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Calif. Lawmakers Advance Bill Expanding Paid Family Leave

August 8, 2013

Law360, Los Angeles (August 08, 2013, 10:08 PM ET) — A California Assembly committee on Wednesday cleared a bill that would amend the state’s Paid Family Leave Act to include workers tending to ailing siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law.

The Assembly Insurance Committee passed the measure, which would amend California’s unemployment insurance laws, by a 7-2 vote. In May, the California State Senate passed SB 770 — introduced in February by state Sens. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord — by a 29-10 vote.

California’s family temporary disability insurance program currently provides up to six weeks of wage replacement benefits to workers who pay into the program and take time off work to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent or domestic partner, according to the senators. The new measure would expand the program to include partially paid time off to care for other seriously ill relatives.

Sharon Terman, a senior staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center — a nonprofit group aiming to help California’s low-income working families — said in a Thursday statement that she was delighted to see the bill advance out of committee.

“We hear from many workers across the state who pay into the [program], and are the only people available to care for their close relatives …  but their loved ones are currently excluded from the program’s definition of family,” she said. “SB 770 will fix this gap in the law.”

In 2002, California became the first state in the U.S. to create a program providing partial pay to workers who took time off to care for ill family members or to bond with new children, according to the California Work & Family Coalition, a collaboration between unions and community groups.

Under current laws, California workers are required to pay contributions to the Unemployment Compensation Disability Fund, a special State Treasury fund, the bill said. The funds are continuously appropriated for the purpose of providing disability benefits and making payment of expenses in administering those provisions.

Paid family leave benefits are calculated by a worker’s earnings in 12-month period ranging from five to 18 months before the beginning of the worker’s claim, according to the State of California Employment Development Department. The wages in the base period must be subjected to state disability insurance and amount to at least $300.

A worker’s weekly paid family leave benefit is 55 percent of wages as determined by the highest quarter of earnings in the worker’s base period, the department said. Weekly benefits range from $50 to a maximum of $1,067. In order to qualify for the maximum, a worker must earn at least $25,196.37 in a calendar quarter during the base period.

Starting in 2004 — two years after the bill was passed — workers were allowed to receive leave benefits for up to six weeks per year in order to bond with a newborn, adopted or foster child, or to care for certain seriously ill family members.

SB 770 would broaden the definition of family within the paid family leave program.

“Family members shouldn’t have to make a terrible choice between caring for their seriously ill grandmother or brother and putting food on the table,” Jackson said in a May statement. “This bill would strengthen this worker-funded program to reflect the reality of family responsibilities in California.”

According to the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, California has the second-highest percentage of multigenerational households in the United States.

A 2011 study conducted by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and other groups found that the vast majority of employers reported that the paid family leave program had either a positive or no noticeable effect on their business productivity, profitability and employee morale, the center said.

–Additional reporting by Erin Coe. Editing by Chris Yates.