Legislators behind the Colorado paid family leave proposal are trying hard to salvage it in the final days of this year’s General Assembly, they told reporters Thursday morning at the Capitol.
Democratic Sens. Angela Williams of Denver and Faith Winter of Westminster, the sponsors of the legislation, announced Wednesday afternoon their bill to create an insurance program would be changed to a study.
“This is not eating the whole apple at once, but it’s taking the first bite,” Sen. Jeff Bridges. D-Greenwood Village, added Thursday morning.
Now the bill goes to the House to start over, up against a crowded calendar with hundreds of bills remaining before the end of the legislative session in a little over a week.
Winter and Williams weren’t willing to settle for outright defeat this year. She said an implementation plan was called for in the original bill, so the change only means that lawmakers will vote on creating the actual insurance program next year. The program could still be up and running by 2024, as the original bill intended.
The business community, apparently some fellow Democrats and Gov. Jared Polis were skeptical of whether the income for the program ultimately could support benefits. The program would let workers and employers pay into a fund to provide wages when someone takes off up to 12 weeks to have a child, recover from a medical issue or care for a loved one.
Winter said Thursday that the concerns that peeled off some support in her own party were never partisan but instead centered around the solvency of the universal insurance plan. The task force will come up with numbers both sides can agree on, with a public comment period on that final report.
“We were being asked to make changes based on numbers we didn’t believe in,” she told reporters.
Williams and Winter said on the Senate floor the night before that they had worked on the bill for five years and provided studies that say the insurance plan would be solvent, “and it wasn’t enough,” Winter said.
She told personal stories, sometimes through tears, about people she’s met who had suffered hardships and loss because of not having pay when they went on leave to take care of themselves or a loved one.
“Today with Amendment 130 we’re telling Jean, we’re telling Deborah, we’re telling Mary we’re not giving up,” Winter told the Senate. “We wanted to move two steps forward to deliver paid family leave to Colorado … but this year what we can say is that we’re setting up an implementation plan.”
She added, “OK, we don’t agree on the math, so we’re saying, ‘Let’s do the math first.'”
Winters said when proponents come back with legislation next year after doing the math, “We’re not going to say this is too hard.”
Williams said supporters are willing to keep working on the bill, presumably to appease the business community and lawmakers who are unswayed about the affordable cost and need for the state program.
“We want a plan that works for all Coloradans,” Williams said Wednesday night.
Supporters were disappointed this year’s bill was watered down but happy it’s still moving forward.
“Many small business owners are desperate for an affordable way to provide paid leave so their employees can take care of a sick kid or elderly parent and still pay their bills,” said Debra Brown, executive director of the coalition Good Business Colorado and co-founder of the tech company Mobilize Us, in a statement.
“While I’m disappointed the full policy isn’t going to be approved tonight, I’m confident that this bill provides a clear pathway to implementing a family leave policy that will ensure employees will be loyal and productive rather than distracted and worried.”
Good Business Colorado member Pete Turner, founder and owner of the Illegal Pete’s restaurant chain, said paid leave is critical.
“Paid family leave is a life-and-death issue, because every single one of us needs to take the time we need to welcome a new child or care for dying loved one without having the added burden of financial insecurity,” Turner stated.
“It is imperative that the legislature pass a solid paid family leave bill next year to solve this problem for employers and employees.”
The Colorado Chamber of Commerce released a statement late Wednesday supporting the task force.
“Our opposition to SB 188 has never been based on the concept of paid family leave – it’s been about striking a balance between employees and employers, ensuring any program is financially sound, and allowing for flexibility rather than a one-size-fits-all program,” said Loren Furman, senior vice president of state and federal relations, in the statement.
“The task force being created through this amendment is an effective way to explore alternatives to the program, and task force members will have the opportunity to identify all affordable, financially responsible options moving forward.”