Paid family medical leave proposal stalls

Senators debated a bill Jan. 15 and 21 that would guarantee paid leave to Nebraskans.

LB305, as introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, would require employers with four or more employees to provide paid sick and safe leave. Under the proposal, employees would accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees could earn up to 40 hours of paid leave per year, based on hours worked.

Twenty-six percent of Nebraska jobs are low-wage jobs, Crawford said, and 70 percent of those low-wage workers do not have any paid sick days.

“As Nebraskans, family and work top our priorities,” she said. “Yet almost half—about 46 percent—of Nebraska’s workforce does not have access to a single paid sick day to stay home when they or a child are sick.”

Qualifying employers would be required to allow an employee to use his or her paid sick and safe leave for a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition, to care for an ill family member or for an absence due to domestic abuse, assault or stalking—including psychological treatment or legal services.

Employees would be eligible to use accrued leave 60 days after beginning employment. Any unused leave time would carry over at the end of the year, but an employee could use only 40 hours of paid leave annually.

An employer with a comparable paid sick time policy would be eligible for an exemption from the bill’s provisions.

A pending Business and Labor Committee amendment would remove the term “domestic partner” from the definition of family member under LB305.

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln spoke in favor of the bill. For Nebraska to have a healthy economy, he said, we need to make sure our workforce is healthy and that employees have the resources they need when they are sick.

“If your business model is so weak that you can’t give employees who are bound to get sick five days [of paid leave], then maybe you need a different business model,” Morfeld said.

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks also supported the bill. She said that nearly 1 in 4 workers has reported losing a job or being threatened with job loss for taking a sick day.

“This [bill] is economic development,” Pansing Brooks said. “This is taking care of our workers and keeping people in Nebraska.”

Blair Sen. Ben Hansen opposed the bill. Good intentions are important, he said, but are not enough on their own to produce positive policy outcomes.

“Laws such as these force business owners to alter how they conduct business,” Hansen said, adding that well-intentioned bills often have negative, unintended consequences for business owners.

Also opposing the bill was Kearney Sen. John Lowe, who said it would “kill” small businesses in Nebraska.

“We need to do everything we can to support our businesses so that we all can have good jobs, pay our taxes and afford our families,” Lowe said.

After three hours of debate spanning two days, the Legislature moved to another item on the agenda. Per a practice implemented last year by Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk, the sponsor of a bill that is facing a potential filibuster must demonstrate sufficient support for a cloture motion before the measure will be scheduled for additional debate.

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