The wheels are coming off paid-family-leave legislation

Some major elements are still in flux: who gets covered and how to pay for it.
Some major elements are still in flux: who gets covered and how to pay for it.

Representative Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, tells me House Democrats are close to agreeing on a stripped-down version of paid-family-leave insurance. This is a government-run program that would pay workers to take up to five weeks off work to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. It would be funded by a two-cents-per-hour-worked payroll tax. The Washington Senate passed the legislation back in March. I had a story on public radio yesterday about how the program would work and the politics behind it. Conway, chair of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, says behind-the-scenes negotiations continue, and here's what's likely to happen: The bill will be modified to only cover parents who take time off to care for a child. If you've got a spouse with cancer or if your elderly parent is dying, you're out of luck. Also, it sounds like the payroll tax funding mechanism is out the door. Conway says what will likely happen is a task force will be appointed to "explore how we would pay for and administer this benefit." Lawmakers have some time to study this issue because the benefit wouldn't kick-in until 2009. Here's the backstory on why the House might punt on the funding question: Gov. Chris Gregoire said any tax-hike would have to go to a vote of the people. Backers of paid family leave fear a public vote would become a national referendum on the issue. That's something they want to avoid. Currently, only California has this type of insurance, but the idea is gaining traction in legislatures around the country. Other changes to the legislation are also in the works – mostly designed to calm the fears and anger of the business community. These are largely technical issues. I would add that minority Republican leaders earlier this session were asked to name the worst bills of the year. Paid family leave was in the top 2 along with "medically accurate" sex-education.


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