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Senate Panel Endorses Paid-Family-Leave Bill

Home News Tribune — Monday, February 5, 2007

By MICHAEL RISPOLI
GANNETT STATE BUREAU

TRENTON — The Senate Labor Committee today pushed forward a proposed bill allowing workers to receive paid family leave benefits under the state's temporary disability program.

The legislation, passed by a 3-1 vote, would give workers access to 12 weeks of leave to care for newborns, newly adopted children or sick family members, while being paid two-thirds of their salary. The program would be funded by employees, not employers, by raising payroll taxes about 0.1 percent of workers' wages.

The tax would apply to same amount of pay as Social Security does, now $97,500.

Charlie Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, said after several attempts at the proposal and working with business groups, he is cautiously optimistic about the bill's chances of making it through the process.

"The time has come that we should not have to choose between spending some time at home or not being able to spend time at home because of having to go back to work," said Wowkanech.

Only California currently provides paid family leave; its program is less generous than New Jersey lawmakers are proposing.

A study released last week by Harvard and McGill universities found the United States' workplace policies are weaker than all high-income countries and behind many middle- and low-income countries. Out of the 173 countries surveyed, the United States was one of five countries with no form of guaranteed paid maternity leave. The other countries were Liberia, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea.

Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney, chairman of the labor committee and a sponsor of the bill, said the country should not be proud to be included on this list.

"Something's wrong here. We are not number one anymore," said Sweeney.

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