Pitch made for paid family leave in Nebraska

Panel hears pitch for paid family leave programs in Nebraska, though action unlikely this year

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Bills that would give Nebraska workers paid family medical and sick leave drew support Monday from labor groups and opposition from business organizations, but lawmakers aren't likely to act on them this year.

One bill by Sen. Annette Dubas would provide up to six consecutive weeks of paid family leave to care for a newborn, or an adopted or foster child. Another by Sen. Danielle Conrad would require employers to offer one hour of paid sick leave for a full-time employee for every 30 hours worked. Both were presented Monday to the Legislature's Business and Labor Committee.

Dubas, of Fullerton, said she introduced the medical-leave bill after several family members and one of her legislative staffers had children.

"I saw the economic challenges these families faced as they looked at taking time off," Dubas said. "If families are required to use up all of their vacation, personal and sick days to stay at home with their newborn, what happens if they need that time later?"

The bill would direct the Nebraska Department of Labor to establish a program, financed through an employee payroll tax. It also would apply to sick family members or workers who face serious medical problems. The federal Family Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but Dubas said it only covers about half of the nation's workforce.

Conrad, of Lincoln, said her bill doesn't require to employers to pay for unused sick leave when an employee leaves and wouldn't apply to very small businesses.

"I introduced this legislation because it addresses a critical workforce issue," she said.

Rodney D. Vlcek, president of the Nebraska State AFL-CIO, said the bills would help provide security to working families and ensure they're productive while on the job. Vlcek said employees without paid sick tend to stay sick longer and struggle to visit doctors during regular working hours.

"For businesses, a healthy workforce is a productive workforce," he said. "While they may have to make due with a smaller staff when an employee is ill, this is far better than employees who risks spreading their illnesses to co-workers."

Ron Sedlacek, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said details about how the employee payroll tax would be imposed weren't specified. Sedlacek said chamber members would prefer a bill at the federal level, though he acknowledged that they would likely oppose a federal proposal as well.

Robert J. Hallstrom, a lobbyist for the National Federation of Independent Business, said employers should have the flexibility to set benefit packages themselves.

"Our members consistently have indicated that they oppose government mandates of this type," he said.

The proposals are unlikely to advance because they weren't designated as priority bills, and the session is more than halfway finished. Dubas, who is leaving office because of term limits, said she hopes to meet with groups after the session ends to keep the issues alive for lawmakers next year.

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The bills are LB955 and LB1090

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