Lawmakers who had hoped to pass a paid family leave insurance program in the statehouse this year will look instead to the statewide ballot in November, they said in a joint statement Thursday night.
Sens. Faith Winter of Westminster and Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, with Reps. Matt Gray of Broomfield and Yadira Caraveo of Thornton are expected to discuss the decision in a call with reporters Friday morning.
“After more than six years of working to secure paid family and medical leave for all Coloradans, we can’t afford to wait any longer," Winter said in a statement Thursday night. "It is time to take the power out of the lobby and give it back to the people of Colorado.”
She said the four bill sponsors will ask other legislators to join the push for the ballot question.
The Colorado Families First Campaign is expected to propose three paid family and medical leave options to voters ranging from 12 to 26 weeks of leave starting in 2023. Workers also would be protected from employer retaliation from using the benefit. In one version, local governments could opt out of the program.
Democratic lawmakers all along have called the ballot question a backup if they couldn't get the program through the statehouse .
When lawmakers return to Denver, tentatively on May 18, after being suspended for the statewide coronavirus emergency since March 14, they are expected to focus on the state budget, School Finance Act and recovery efforts, especially related to the growing economic crisis caused by the shutdown.
The proposed legislation hit a skid in February when two of the chief proponents, Sen. Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Rep. Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, said they couldn't support the proposal in its evolving form, because they felt it left behind the lowest-wage workers and people of color.
After being turned away last year, Winter and Williams won the concession of a study committee that worked on the solvency of the program during the off-session. Business interests and Gov. Jared Polis have said the program must be able to sustain itself, without taxpayer subsidies.
Business interests say the program would be too costly for small businesses and force them to hold open jobs or find temporary help for extended periods, despite perhaps a small staff.
“The COVID-19 crisis has underscored failing systems across our country, but no gap has been so apparent than our lack of Paid Family and Medical Leave,” Gray stated. “If people were able to safely and securely stay home from work when they or a loved one got sick, who knows how many lives and livelihoods could have been spared. It is clear now that not having a paid family and medical leave program is not only unjust but dangerous as well.”
Moreno said leave to be sick or care for a loved one shouldn't be a privilege granted to high-level employees. It should be a right for workers, he said.
He said, "thousands of others face tragic family medical conditions and are forced to choose between paying their bills and being there for their loved ones,” adding, “We need to protect Coloradans by ensuring that they are adequately covered by their employers when life events happen.”
Caraveo, the only medical doctor in the current General Assembly, said that while coronavirus has been devastating "unsung tragedies were going on every day" before.
"As a physician, I’ve seen parents leave their children alone in the hospital as they undergo chemotherapy so that they don’t lose their job," she said. "I’ve seen family members miss the death of a loved one because they couldn’t afford to miss work. And I’ve witnessed parents go into debt in order to care for their sick child.
“This pandemic hasn’t created the problem, it’s only highlighted what’s been here all along: mainly a lack of stability, humanity, and fairness in our economic system.”