The Senate Finance Committee hearing on Senate Bill 188 Tuesday took a very different look than the hearing in the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee a week ago.
For one thing, people who opposed the bill finally got to testify against it on the record.
Tuesday night's seven-and-a-half hour hearing on the FAMLI family medical leave bill ended without a vote, allowing the bill's sponsors more time to work on amendments pertaining to private programs and the bill's definition of family.
Last week’s hearing took place during the #bombcyclone snowstorm, and the testimony was almost entirely from those who supported the bill. The bill’s sponsors -- Democratic Sens. Faith Winter of Westminster and Angela Williams of Denver -- and the committee’s chair, Sen. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge, solicited those who couldn’t make it to the Capitol to send in emails and they would read them during the hearing.
That promise was quickly broken. Instead of reading the emails, the senators just read the names of those who sent them in and whether they supported or opposed the bill.
Opponents showed up in force on Tuesday, with a pledge from committee chair Sen. Lois Court of Denver that she would allow more latitude on testimony.
She kept her word.
The bill would set up an insurance pool to provide partial wage replacement benefits to eligible workers who need to take time off work, and would primarily benefit low-wage workers. The program is set up as an enterprise -- a state-owned business -- which would allow the state to collect up to $922 million in revenue by 2021-22 to pay claims without pushing state revenue limits over the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights cap, which would trigger a refund to taxpayers.
But the bill is raising concerns for Colorado businesses, who pointed out in testimony Tuesday that the program will end more generous family leave programs provided in a tight labor market.
Jenifer Waller of the Colorado Bankers Association said her members offer better benefits, including longer paid leave, to their employees than is provided in the bill, which allows for up to 12 weeks of paid leave. That paid leave is calculated on a sliding scale that is dependent on how much the employee earns weekly.
Waller told the committee her members would have to get rid of their more generous programs; otherwise they would be paying twice for leave, once to the government and also into their own programs.
She added that the way the bill is structured, state and local government employees plans would be subsidized in part by private industry.
That's because the bill gives those entities, as well as businesses with less than 50 employees, a break on the cost of the program, although the benefits paid would be the same as for any employee at any business.
Loren Furman of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce noted in her remarks that two of the four states with these programs -- New Jersey and California -- have had solvency issues. And virtually every organization representing local governments, including the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties, Inc, the Northwest Council of Governments and the Special Districts Association, oppose the measure.
"This looks like a payroll tax," said Richard Orff, representing the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado. "We won't litigate it tonight, but it will be litigated."
Orff pointed out that Garfield County, for example, offers up to 26 weeks of paid leave, but would have to get rid of that more generous program since it would be duplicative.
Angie Howes of the Colorado Retail Council told the story of how she struggled through the birth of her first child and the lack of family leave.
Despite her experience, she and the council opposes the bill. Retail Council members have concerns about the financial unpredictability, misalignment with federal family leave, definition of family and more. Costs are also a huge concern, she explained; some employers will face up to $2 million for their share of the program.
Business owners also spoke out against Senate Bill 188. Cory Steele owns Eagle Claw, a maker of flyfishing lures. He said his company's program is more generous than what's provided in the bill, but he'd have to drop his program to avoid paying for two. "Government doesn't always have the answers," he said.
Still, those who signed up to testify in favor of the bill slightly outnumbered those against, telling stories of how the lack of family leave has caused financial hardships.
Colorado 9 to 5 has been one of the most vocal advocates for the concept, which is on its third iteration, although Democratic lawmakers have been working on similar bills on employer-paid leave for years.
Judith Marquez, senior organizer from 9 to 5, told the committee that a February poll of likely 2020 voters showed support for paid family leave is "broad and deep. Sixty-eight percent" support a state-run program, she said. When voters are given more information about the program, and that it would be paid for by an insurance premium split between employers and employees, the support grows to 71 percent.
Eight out of ten Coloradans lack access to paid family leave, she said, and one in ten are acting as unpaid caregivers to someone over the age of 50. The costs of recovering from an illness should not cause financial instability, she said.
Rev. Bill Kirton, a retired Methodist minister from Together Colorado, a multifaith statewide organization, showed a letter of support signed by 112 clergies from around the state. Government is the way to share the general welfare and the blessings of liberty, he said, quoting from the Constitution. Senate Bill 188 promotes ethical behavior and for the welfare of all, he explained.
But it's more personal for him. His wife has Alzheimer's. "Paid sick leave is for the well-being of our whole community, and government is the way to share that responsibility."
The bill will come back to Senate Finance sometime in the coming weeks, with amendments potentially on allowing private businesses to continue to offer their own programs and to address concerns over the bill's definition of family, which opponents said is too broad. The bill defines family as an immediate family member as well as domestic partners and "any other individual with whom the covered individual has a significant personal bond that is like a family relationship, regardless of biological or legal relationship."