The day before the commencement of the General Assembly, a special task force delivered a report on how the state could offer more workers paid family and medical leave if lawmakers create an insurance program administered by the state.
The Legislature opted for the report last year, when a bill to create the program stalled out against opposition from business groups, as well as the skepticism from Gov. Jared Polis, who ultimately would have to sign legislation.
The general idea is that employers and workers would pay premiums that would provide income when workers take time off to recover from a health condition, most often pregnancies, as well as to care for a sick family member.
The 13-member Family and Medical Leave Insurance Task Force delivered 21 recommendations Tuesday, including voting unanimously to recommend that the program be regulated and operated by the state Department of Labor and Employment. The task force also unanimously backed allowing self-employed workers to participate, as well as letting employers opt out of the state requirement by offering a plan that's equivalent or better.
The committee unanimously agreed that the definition of family should include a "child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, grandchild, grandparent, sibling, parent-in-law or parent of a domestic partner."
Some of the issues they didn't reach consensus on, however, are some of the same ones that troubled the business community last session: duration of the leave between six and 14 weeks, the length of employment before qualifying for leave and whether the program should be mandated and with or without exemptions for small employers, among them.
Read the full report by clicking here.
"It's very clear from the work that that task force did over six months clearly demonstrated that this is not a simple piece of legislation to get passed," said Loren Furman, senior vice president for state and federal affairs for the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, who attended all the meetings.
She said if legislation this year looks like previous bills, the chamber will continue to oppose it.
"It's my hope the Legislature and the governor take a look and review this report closely and go back and listen to some of the discussions of the meetings prior to introducing any piece of legislation," Furman said.
Task force member Kathy White, who is the deputy director of Colorado Fiscal Institute, said the report is the product of six months of meetings with private employers, economists, worker organizations and former government officials, among others.
“This data-driven report shows everyone at the table was united in their belief that Colorado would benefit immensely from a PFML program that is strong, accessible, and equitable," she said in a statement
“I’m more confident this year because I think there’s commitments on process,” she said. “There’s no predetermined outcome or final product, but commitment to actually do the process.”
White said the report "should give legislators clear directives on how to draft a public benefit program that covers as many workers in Colorado as possible.”
State Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who sponsored Senate Bill 188 last year, has said the deliberative process paid off. She feels confident she has enough commitments to create the program this year.
Polis supports the concept of the program but hopes for a willingness to compromise on the size of the employers, those who are eligible and the duration of the leave.
Business groups have argued that the program is too open-ended. They worry about the costs to employers and that that program won't be able to sustain itself without the support of taxpayers. Also, most companies have leave programs that could be abandoned for a state option that is not as robust, ultimately hurting some workers, opponents contend.
Others see it as a further government intrusion into business.
“What we don’t need is more mandates coming from the Capitol," said Michael Fields, the executive director of the advocacy group Colorado Rising Action. "It’s clear that the family leave proposal is going to be a tax increase and, therefore, should go to voters under TABOR (the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights)."
Task force member Judith Marquez, co-director of the working women's advocacy group 9to5 Colorado, said people have been trying to pass a vigorous paid family and medical leave program for more than five years.
Republicans controlled the Senate until last year, and efforts stopped there. Last year, Democrats slowed the roll for the effort, as well.
"We have a good road map and well-informed recommendations for an effective and equitable program that benefits as many workers as possible,” Marquez stated.