Today the Senate Commerce, Labor, and Sports Committee heard public testimony on two different paid leave bills.

Senate Bill 5032 is supported by the Washington Work and Family Coalition and received strong support from people testifying in this afternoon’s hearing.

“We’ve been working on this issue for almost 20 years, and I’m thrilled to see consensus beginning to form that we can do better for working families,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D – Des Moines), sponsor of Senate Bill 5032. “All of us have experienced a family or health crisis for which a couple sick days just weren’t enough, whether it was a premature baby, an unexpected illness, or the failing health of a parent.”

“This bill is an affordable and predictable solution to providing an important benefit for life’s emergencies,” said Sara Reilly, co-owner of Darby’s Café and Three Magnets Brewing Co. in Olympia. “Small businesses like ours can’t afford paying for paid family and medical leave entirely on our own. Likewise, it’s not fair to put the cost entirely on working families. This is a good approach that’s fair to everyone.”

The alternative proposal, sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain (R – Auburn), provides less time than health experts recommend, puts the cost entirely on workers and will prevent too many working families from accessing paid leave.

“We are pleased with the bipartisan interest in paid family and medical leave, but it’s important that we build a program right from the start,” said Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director for the Economic Opportunity Institute, which convenes the Washington Work and Family Coalition. “We’ve spent years talking with business owners, studying the health research, and the research on other state programs – both what’s working well and where they fall short. All of that input and research is reflected in Senator Keiser’s bill.”

Specific coalition concerns with Sen. Fain’s bill include:

  • Insufficient leave – only 12 weeks of leave in total, for medical or family emergencies. This isn’t enough to cover events that happen all too frequently, like a pregnancy requiring bed rest, a baby born critically ill, a debilitating accident, a family member’s serious injury during military service.
  • Low benefits – not enough in benefits to support working families during a crisis.
  • Outdated definitions – it leaves out too many people in today’s work force.
  • Puts the cost entirely on workers – Sen. Fain’s proposal is funded entirely by employees, instead of a shared cost between workers and employers, like in our proposal. That’s unfair for working families, just as unfair as asking only business owners to pay for it. After all, all of us have a stake in healthy families and strong communities.

Other supporters for Sen. Keiser’s proposal included workers, health care experts, and community groups.

“Evidence has clearly shown that if parents are allowed to take paid leave, child and family health is improved, as well as families’ financial security,” said Amanda Jacobsen, MD, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and at the UW Kent/Des Moines pediatric clinic. “Just last week, I saw a 2-month-old infant whose mother transitioned him from breastmilk to formula because she couldn’t stay home any longer. Allowing parents to be present when they are needed most would improve health outcomes for Washington women, children and families.”

“When it comes to taking care of our vets, sometimes the best thing we can do is support their families,” said Raymond Miller, a veterans’ advocate, PTSD counselor and president of Vets Place Northwest – Welcome Home. “Having a spouse able to stay home to help them while they’re struggling with PTSD could mean getting into treatment faster, and having a spouse there to receive medical instructions and help with support at home can mean the difference between life and death.”

“As a medical professional, I know the benefits of paid family and medical leave,” said Edie Lang, MD, a family physician in Seattle. “I’ve seen things go really well for new families, and I’ve seen things go really poorly. Far too many of the mothers I work with go back to work before they should – not because they want to, but because they have to”

“No matter where you work or what you do, all of us have at some point faced one of those unexpected life emergencies,” said Rhonda Parker, a SEIU 775 caregiver from Lacey. “Last year I was hospitalized for a week, but without access to paid medical leave I was back at work on Day 8. Because of lost pay, I was behind on my rent and the bills, and I had to rely on going to a food bank to be able to feed my family.”

“When I had my son, I had six weeks of short-term disability leave and two weeks of vacation,” said Nichole Booker, a UFCW 21 worker in Tacoma. “Not only was going back to work eight weeks postpartum not good for the health of my son, it was not good for my own health, as I was recovering from complications during delivery. My body and my son needed more time, and passing this bill would ensure future mothers don’t have to face the same struggle.”

A recent poll showed at least 72 percent of Washington voters supported passing paid family and medical leave, and the Work and Family Coalition is looking to the Legislature to act.

Washington Work and Family Coalition

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