LEGISLATURE-RESUMES-05262020-KS-366

Senators Bob Rankin, left and Chris Hansen pause to talk on the Senate floor during the returning session. Colorado lawmakers return to the state Capitol on May 26, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. Legislators have returned after a 10-week pause due to fears from the spread of the coronavirus.

The legislation had been left for the buzzards when the Colorado General Assembly broke for the pandemic on March 14, but paid leave will be back before lawmakers as they respond to the pandemic.

Citing the ongoing health crisis, Democrats are proposing a bill to provide every worker at least 48 hours of leave to ensure they can stay home if they're sick, at the expense of the employer.

They're keeping no secrets, however, that it's a gateway to providing paid leave as an earned benefit for all workers, since only about half of Colorado's workforce gets paid time off from their job.

That's easier said than done, if history has anything to say. Some Democrats tried and failed the past few years to set up the insurance program. With Democrats holding majorities in the House and Senate, and a progressive new governor, legislation to create a time-off insurance program last year was amended to an off-session study, which led to a divisive proposal earlier this session.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Fenberg said on Wednesday that the pandemic has showed the need even more clearly, giving the idea new legislative life.

"They know if they get sick, they want to do the right thing and stay home and not get others sick," he said, adding that pitting that choice against a day's pay for low-income workers is not a fair bargain.

The proposal, however, is not something that could be used for maternity leave, a long-term illness or caring for a terminally ill family member, but rather short-term illnesses, earned at one hour for every 30 hours worked.

House Speaker K.C. Becker, another Boulder Democrat, is one of the sponsors. She called now "the right time for the right policy in Colorado."

Lawmakers said it's critical that sick people stay home and not spread the illness.

"Nobody wants a burger and fries with a side of COVID," said Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Democrat from Greenwood Village.

Healthier Colorado, which supports paid leave, presented a poll it commissioned that indicated strong support for paid sick leave across the state, with 78% backed employers providing paid sick days.

A broad paid leave program stalled out in February when supporters couldn't agree on how big a role taxpayers should play in supporting the insurance benefit, especially for the workforce's lowest-paid employees. Gov. Jared Polis has maintained skepticism about public funding for the insurance last year and this session, too.

Petition gatherers are hoping to the question on the November ballot, but that, too, is complicated by health orders and court questions that have slowed the effort to get 124,632 signatures from registered voters.

The Colorado Families First Campaign is proposing ballot measures, initiatives 247 and 248, to facilitate family and medical leave options to voters ranging from 12 to 16 weeks of leave starting in 2023.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce is among the opponents arguing such a program represents a new tax and, hence, doesn't meet the bar for a tax hike request under the state constitution's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

Democratic lawmakers called the ballot question a backup if they couldn't get the program through the statehouse.

RELATED: Paid family and medical leave bill in jeopardy, but chief Senate sponsor isn’t giving up yet

The Colorado Chamber of Commerce also has opposed past legislation and the ballot proposals. The statewide chamber participated in the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Task Force that was crated as a result of the failed efforts to create the program last year.

The chamber told Colorado Politics Wednesday that it is working with the bill sponsors to make changes to resolve some the business communities concerns over the crisis measure, including technical changes.

"We’re also concerned about the creation of a new private right of action that would lead to costly litigation for employers and hope that the sponsors instead allow disputes to be handled through the state," a spokeswoman said in an email.

“It’s disappointing that interest groups have chosen to pursue a billion-dollar program in the middle of an economic crisis,” Loren Furman, senior vice president of state and federal relations for the chamber said earlier this month. “The business community came to the negotiating table in good faith to find a thoughtful legislative solution, willing to compromise in order to strike the right balance for a family and medical leave program that works for Colorado.”

Furman added, “The uncertainty of the situation globally and nationally has forced many businesses to close temporarily, layoff and furlough valued employees, and seek out financial assistance to stay afloat."

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