Zenzinger, Fenberg

State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. Photo courtesy of their websites.

Editor's note: This story has been revised, after further discussions with Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, to more accurately reflect his position on the paid leave for state employees program.

During a Tuesday morning media briefing with Senate Democratic leadership, Sen. Rachel Zenzinger pushed back against the Polis administration's plan for a paid family leave program for state employees, stating that the program as proposed by the governor wouldn't be fair to state employees.

What Gov. Jared Polis proposed isn't a real paid family leave program, said Zenzinger, D-Arvada, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee that unanimously voted down funding for the proposal last week.

The top reason for rejecting the Polis proposal was that the program lacks statutory authority, but there are other problems, too, according to Zenzinger.

Zenzinger's take is that it wouldn't apply to all state employees, rendering it unfair to those left out. "If you're going to do something along the lines of paid family leave, it should be equitable and apply to all employees."

Zenzinger said the benefit under the governor's proposal is actually to the state, which gets reimbursed for the employee's time off, making it different than paid leave proposals supported by legislative Democrats.

The JBC also had concerns about the program's lack of detail, she said. 

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, has a different view of both the program and the governor's authority. He pointed out that while a paid leave policy is very important to the Senate Democratic caucus — they're working on a proposal for a private employer program this session — it's a different conversation on how to do paid leave for state employees versus the private sector.

He disagrees with Zenzinger's claim that the leave program would apply only to critical positions, telling Colorado Politics that all 30,000 state employees would be eligible for leave. 

"We also approve the budget, which is how you pay for a paid leave program [for state employees]. The money from the request was meant to pay for replacement employees," he said. 

The $8 million budget ask from Polis is only to cover the cost of replacing those critical position employees while they're on leave, Fenberg said. He also disagrees with the JBC on whether there's statutory authority for the program; Fenberg said he believes the governor does have the authority.

The cost issue is one of the concerns raised by businesses and business groups that oppose the paid family leave policy that would be mandated by the state for private employers. 

The Polis administration said Monday that they believe they have the statutory authority to set up the program, which would provide up to eight weeks of paid leave annually for  92 categories of critical positions, about half of which are in health care.

Members of Colorado WINS, the state employee union, are at the Capitol Tuesday to lobby on a collective bargaining bill, and several state employees told Colorado Politics they didn't think the program would be fair if it only applied to a portion of state employees.

Colorado WINS fully supports the governor's proposal on paid family and medical leave for state employees, according to spokeswoman Olga Robak.

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