Senate committee passes paid family and medical leave bill

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In the first of many committee stops in the Minnesota Senate, a paid family and medical leave bill passed on a voice vote with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against.

The bill would provide up to 12 weeks off to care for an employee’s own health issue or to care for an ill child or other family member. It would be paid for through payroll taxes on employers and employees.

“I’m committed to seeing this bill become law,” said Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the Senate Jobs and Economic Development Committee. It is one of the top priorities for Democrats in the Senate and House after taking control of both chambers in the November elections.

“It would provide Minnesotans with a 12-week leave at partial wage replacement to take care of a new baby, bond with a new child or take care of themselves or a family member who has suffered a major medical event,” said Sen. Alice Mann, DFL-Edina.

The program would replace about 60% of wages paid for with the payroll taxes and administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

“This is just a fundamental opportunity to take a paid family and medical leave plan, put in place for our workers so they have it when life happens,” DEED Commissioner Steve Grove told the committee. “It’s pro-family, it’s pro-worker, it’s pro-business.”

But business interests ranging from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to the Minnesota Federation of Independent Business say it would cost businesses around a billion dollars per year in new taxes in a state they say is already over-taxed and over-regulated.

“It’s not the fault of the small employer that this bill is going to pose significant obstacles and add significant costs and challenges for them,” said John Reynolds of the Minnesota Federation of Independent Business.

One small business owner disagreed, saying he’s already providing paid leave, but says it’s difficult to budget around unpredictable illnesses.

“I would love to have a predictable payroll tax,” testified Dan Swenson-Klatt, owner of Butter Bakery Café. “I could budget for it. I can price my products for it.”

There was also testimony regarding concern about the cost of the program from representatives of the Minnesota School Boards Association and local cities and counties.

Although the bill passed the Senate Jobs and Economic Development Committee, it has at least another five or six committees to navigate before getting to the Senate floor.

A similar bill is moving through the Minnesota House.