On Thursday, a group of Nebraska state Senators introduced a package of legislation aimed at helping the state’s workers, including a measure that would create a paid family leave program.
The state, which has gone Republican by wide margins in the last four elections and is governed by Republican Dave Heineman, would create a fund that employees would pay into through payroll deductions for the family leave program. Eligible workers would then be able to take up to six weeks of paid time off a year. Sen. Annette Dubas (D), who introduced the measure, says that just about half of the state’s workforce is covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which only guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid time off for the arrival of a new child.
The legislative package also includes a raise of the state’s minimum wage, which currently rests at the federal floor of $7.25 an hour, to $9 over three years, a requirement that employers offer paid sick days to certain workers, and an increase in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families. Sen. Danielle Conrad (D), who introduced the paid sick leave, says that about 43 percent of the state’s workers lack access to paid time off for illnesses.
If the state were to pass the package, it would become just the fourth in the nation with a paid family leave program. Rhode Island’s new law took effect in January, joining New Jersey and California. Three other states — Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York — have Temporary Disability Insurance programs that workers can pay into and get a portion of their wages during leave. Other states have considered family leave laws, and New York and Massachusetts have pending bills, but Nebraska is the only deep-red state giving it consideration. A bill was introduced at the federal level in December to give all of the country’s workers access to paid family leave. Such a program would boost the economy by keeping workers in the labor force and even expanding it while reducing employers’ costs from turnover and work interruptions. California’s program has saved employers an estimated $89 million a year.
If passed, the paid sick leave provision would also be the country’s eighth, joining six other cities and the state of Connecticut. Evidence from the current paid sick leave laws has shown little cost to employers and big boosts for local economies.
On the other hand, many states already have higher minimum wages than the federal level — 21 as of January 1. A small town outside of Seattle has the highest minimum wage in the country at $15 an hour, and the state with the highest level is Washington at $9.32, although the governor wants to raise it even higher. There’s also momentum from Democratic lawmakers and President Obama to raise the federal wage to $10.10 an hour. There is little evidence that raising the minimum wage would cost jobs and indications that it would increase economic growth.