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Washington Lawmakers Consider Family Leave Legislation

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A Washington state House committee is scheduled to vote Monday on a bill that will provide family and medical leave benefits for workers.

The bill’s sponsor, Everett Democratic Rep. June Robinson, says the legislation would provide up to 26 weeks of paid leave. It would apply to parents who want to stay home with newborns.

“But this is not only for new parents. It’s also for all of us as workers when we have our own long-term health needs as well as a family member,” Robinson said.

Her bill would allow employees who have worked a minimum number of hours to take leave, beginning October 1, 2019, in cases of childbirth, family health or military-related issues. In 2020, a provision would take effect allowing a person to take up to 12 weeks to take care of their own health.

The state paid leave would supplement the Federal Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take unpaid leave from their jobs.

During a hearing last Thursday before the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, several people talked about their own cases in which sanctioned leave would helped. Rhonda Parker from Lacey suffered a tear in her esophagus, had to go to the hospital and miss work. She fell behind on her rent and her bills and had to go to her local food bank to feed her family.

“Instead I could have had enough money to just make ends meet after being in the hospital. I could have even taken a couple of days to recover but I wasn’t able to,"  Parker said. "I had to go back to work immediately.”

Business organizations are mixed on this bill. Some testified that they enthusiastically support family leave if the bill can be tweaked to reduce the burden on their members. Others, such as Carolyn Logue of the Washington Retail Association, say this would be yet one more expensive mandate for businesses, on top of a voter-approved minimum wage increase and a new voter-approved paid sick leave policy.

“We are very interested in continuing discussions, very interested in working with everybody. But we need to look at it from a different perspective," Logue said. "How do you have a leave policy that works for the employee but also works for employers as well? And not just one or two employers, but really you’ve got to look at what runs the gamut.”

Another family leave bill has been introduced in the Senate. It remains to be seen whether either of the two will be carried forward for votes or whether the two might be combined into another proposal.

Our thanks to TVW for the audio in this story.