OLYMPIA — The state Legislature passed a measure this week that would give all employees in Washington five weeks of paid leave for a new child.
The Senate passed the bill on a 26-22 vote to agree with changes made in the House that scaled down the measure significantly from what the Senate initially passed. It now heads to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it.
Six Democrats crossed the aisle to vote against the measure: Sens. Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island, Chris Marr of Spokane, Erik Poulsen of Seattle, Marilyn Rasmussen of Eatonville, Phil Rockefeller of Bainbridge Island and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch.
Under the bill, starting in 2009, workers would get $250 a week for up to five weeks to care for a newborn or a newly adopted child.
Originally, the measure would have allowed workers also to take leave to care for a seriously ill relative. It also would have imposed a 2-cent-an-hour tax on employees' pay to cover the program, but under an agreement between House and Senate lawmakers, that language was removed.
Now, a new 13-member task force — including lawmakers, business representatives and others — will study how to finance the program. The task force must report its findings to the Legislature by Jan. 1.
"The bill before us is not as generous, it is not as complete as the bill we passed earlier, but this bill is a very good start," said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, the measure's main sponsor. "We will finish the details of the job over the next few years."
The new version sets aside a loan of at least $18 million for the biennium ending June 30, 2009, for the initial administration set-up costs for the program.
Supporters have been trying to get paid family leave through the Legislature since 2001. Two years ago, it passed the Senate but got stopped in the House.
The measure would also require employers to hold workers' jobs open while they are on leave, although an amendment would exempt businesses with less than 25 employees from that requirement.
Under federal law, paid leave is not required, but businesses with 50 or more employees must give workers up to 12 weeks of medical leave per year for themselves or to take care of an ailing relative.
The bill that passed Friday requires the paid leave to be taken concurrently with the federal leave.
California is currently the only state with paid family leave, but its law is much more expansive, with workers also allowed to take leave for their own health conditions. That state's measure pays 55 percent of a worker's pay for six weeks, up to $882 a week.
—The Associated Press