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Family leave provokes fight in state Senate

Democrats want to expand families' ability to take care of a child or sick relative. Republicans want to kill the state's law.
The Barfield family

The Barfield family John Stang

A double whammy hit Democrats Monday on the Family Medical Leave Act and on workers compensation.

At least Democrats say so.

At the beginning of a Monday session, the Republican chairwoman of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee moved a public hearing on a controversial bill to repeal the Family Medical Leave Act from the beginning of the agenda to the end. That provided time in the two-hour session for the chairwoman to move five of her complicated workers compensation bills out of the committee, leaving 25 minutes for public feedback on the family leave bill.

Consequently, not all the people who signed up to testify on the family leave bill got to do so.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, contended that committee chairwoman Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry juggled the agenda at the last minute to ensure minimal testimony on the family leave bill, while giving Republicans time to move the five workers compensation bills out of the committee over Democrat protests. Holmquist Newbry could not be reached for comment after the committee meeting to reply to Keiser's comments.

Three 2013 Family Medical Leave Act bills are in play.

Keiser got the original act passed in 2007, which would provide parents of newborn and newly adopted children with up to five weeks of paid leave starting in 2015. Implementation was delayed because of a lack of money to manage the program — $12 to $13 million to start up and $5 million annually, Keiser said. The leaves of absence themselves would be funded through a tiny payroll deduction, she said.

However, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, submitted a bill to repeal the 2007 act. "It's an act of good intentions. ... But it's never been properly funded," Braun said.

Last week, Keiser introduced a new bill aimed at expanding the Family Medical Leave Act to provide for up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or a sick family member. It would also provide two-thirds of usual weekly pay up to a maximum of $1,000 a week. The premiums would be shared by employers and employees and would cost, according to her calculations, roughly $1 a week for an employee salaried at $50,000 annually. Workers would become eligible after paying premiums for 680 hours of work. Keiser's bill will go to Holmquist Newbry's committee.

Meanwhile, House Democrats introduced a bill similar Keiser in their chamber Monday.

Braun's bill brought Mark and Trudee Barfield of Orting to Olympia with their 2-year-old daughter Hope, who has Down's syndrome.

Mark Barfield — 42 years old and the father of eight children with another on the way — told the committee about Hope having to spend several months at Seattle's Children's Hospital for heart surgery and other problems. His employer, whom he declined to name, gave him 12 weeks off with no pay. The utility and maintenance worker said the family was lucky in that his mother helped financially and Trudee's mother looked after the other kids while the parents were at Children's Hospital.

"If the (funded Family Medical Leave Act) had been there for us, it would've been a great stress reliever," Mark Barfield said.

Trudee Barfield, 39, said parents need to be at the hospital 24 hours a day in this type of situation to ensure their child gets the best care.

Sarah Francis, a blogger with MomsRising, a network dealing with parenting issues, opposed Braun's bill saying: "New moms and dads should be allowed time off to bond with their babies."

One America, which works on immigrant issues, the Washington State Labor Council and the United Food and Commercial Workers union also opposed Braun's bill, arguing the lack of baby care leave is stressful on lower-income people.

The Association of Washington Business, the Independent Business Association and the Washington Policy Center supported Braun's bill to remove the 2007 law. The AWB's Kris Tefft said the Legislature continually delayed finding money for put the bill's programs into play. "All these delays are a de facto repeal," Tefft said. Gary Smith, executive director of the Independent Business Association, said employers fret about the unknown costs of the program.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jan 29, 7:35 a.m. Inappropriate

We need to rethink what we allow businesses to do that has put us into this economic crisis instead of balancing the budget by cutting good programs that helps young families bond with their children and keeps them from sliding into poverty themselves when they have a child.

Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of the working people, our economy would be better off if there was some effort to identify why businesses in our state, like Walmart, not only are allowed to outsource jobs, but have so many employees statewide that are given poverty wages that, not only keeps them from paying many taxes, but they need government support to meet their own basic needs. Isn't this the real problem?

If Washington's Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act is good for babies, good for parents, and good for our economy than it needs to be supported. Our elected officials must hesitate before cutting programs that make us a better place to live before searching out and correcting policies that reward businesses for skimming wages and benefits from their workers to line their investors pockets.

SMG

Posted Tue, Jan 29, 9:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Agree wholeheartedly with SMG. She/He finally puts the responsibility where it belongs--with businesses whining about being overtaxed "job creators" when in fact they do balance their budgets, and please their investors, by ferociously insisting on paying the bare minimum in wages and providing no or as little in benefits as they can get away with, thereby shifting the burden to government, then whining about government overtaxing them. The big, ugly circle of deceit.

mspat

Posted Tue, Jan 29, 8:03 p.m. Inappropriate

NO NO NO! Why should a business have to pay people for a choice they make to have kids? They could save up money to cover their expenses during the time they want off. It would be like saving for a vacation or making a major purchase. If a couple can't afford to save enough money to take time off when their baby is born how the hell can they afford to have that child?

cbbear

Posted Tue, Jan 29, 11:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Here's the thing cbbear: It's not always possible to plan or save for every eventuality, especially with the kinds of jobs out there these days.

That's why it's called family and medical leave *insurance*. You pay a few pennies an hour and in exchange, when you need some time away from work - because you blow out your knee horsing around with your kids, or your wife has an unexpected c-section/premature birth, or you need to take your elderly mom to the dentist - you can do that without losing part of your paycheck, or your job.

ba

Posted Mon, Feb 4, 4:04 p.m. Inappropriate

You are both right in my mind. People's choices are not the problem of a business. That's why they are a business and not a public or nonprofit. But yes, you cannot plan for every eventuality which is why we have a safety net, albeit tattered.

If it was me though, I wouldn't have picked a guy with eight kids as my poster child for a piece of legislation. After the fourth or fifth, didn't occur to them that they probably should have a pretty healthy reserve (and maybe an understanding) for at least some of the eventualities that could occur with that many kids.

Instead, they had EIGHT and now we are supposed to pay a few pennies and hour (for now) because surprise, surprise something went wrong. Not sure how convincing a story that is for most of us who chose to stop a one or two kids because we decided that is all we could afford.

Posted Wed, Jan 30, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Okay Penny, I know I'm skipping over the fact that nobody asked.

Based on the way this article is constructed, Mr. Stang lives in a narrative that differs from mine. I would have described the program up front as one created on paper in 2007 but never funded or implemented. It's a program waiting for better fiscal times. One team wants to expand the future program. The other wants to eliminate it before it is implemented. All the drama lies in differing visions for the future. No individual would be injured if the program was changed or eliminated since no one is benefiting from the program now.

Ditto his explanation of the hearing. It sounds as though the senators who opposed the bills being voted on used almost an hour and a half of the two hour meeting to express their concerns then complained about the lack of time available for the public hearing part of the agenda. But maybe I misunderstood his article.

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