Gov. Jared Polis continued his push on behalf of state workers Wednesday, pushing back on legislators who say taxpayers can't afford to extend paid family and medical leave to the state's 39,324 employees.
“At a time when 1 in 5 positions in state government are vacant, it is imperative that we stay competitive as an employer," Polis said in a statement. "Currently, more than 30,000 hardworking state employees do not have access to paid family and medical leave. This modest proposal, when paired with our requests for a pay raise for workers, would bring about real change and ensure that Colorado becomes an ‘employer of choice,' while ensuring that we uphold our shared Colorado values of treating our hardworking state employees with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”
The Joint Budget Committee voted unanimously last week to reject the governor's request, because it appeared to be open-ended, costly and didn't apply equally to all employees, lawmakers said.
Polis is asking that lawmakers to reconsider. Both chambers have Democratic majorities, leaving the governor with time and opportunity to exercise his influence.
Polis is seeking eight weeks of paid leave for a serious health condition of a spouse or family member, including domestic partners. It also provides leave for military exigency, a domestic violence situation or the birth, adoption, foster placement or bonding with a new child.
The proposal, however, lands at a time Polis is differing with lawmakers from both parties about whether his promises and goals are affordable. Polis contends they are.
The governor's statement Wednesday follows a Tuesday hearing in which his chief legal counsel, Jacki Cooper Melmed, told the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee that allowing state workers to bargain together for wages and benefits "is completely consistent with his overall agenda," she said.
She and other proponents talked about Colorado's tight labor market and the high cost of turnover and vacancies, both to taxpayers, businesses and those who rely on state workers and services.
House Bill 1153 passed out of the committee on a 6-3 party-line vote.
The Joint Budget Committee and, ultimately, the full legislature will craft and pass a budget for the governor to sign, likely fulfilling most of his other requests. Though rejected by the Joint Budget Committee, the paid leave for state workers proposal could — and likely will — be offered as an amendment when the budget reaches the floors of the House and Senate, probably in April.
The four-month legislative concludes on May 6. The Colorado Constitution requires that the state pass a balanced budget.
The state provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave, which is provided under the federal family medical leave law, but it also offers short-term disability insurance that overs 60% of an employee’s salary up to a maximum of $3,000 a week for up to 150 days in a 12 month period.
His office said that state departments that could not absorb leave could receive state money to cover the work duties in critical positions. The office estimates that 10.2% of its workforce would take advantage of the benefit, and less than one-third of those are in critical care positions.
The Department of Personnel and Administration would get $9.9 million to backfill critical positions, but the state budget would have to cover only about $5.5 million, with the rest coming from federal money other sources paid by taxpayers.
The governor also pushed back Wednesday on the claim that the state lacks legal authority to create the program, citing a state attorney general's opinion that indicates that the state personnel director has the authority implement a paid family leave program.
That opinion is available by clicking here.