Following months of meetings, studies, actuarial reports and public comment, the task force appointed to study paid family and medical leave for Colorado released a report still recommending that legislators create a state-run program.
In 2019, legislators considered a bill to create a mandatory state-run program funded through a $2 billion payroll tax on employers and employees. You’ll recall that the Chamber strongly opposed that legislation. That legislation was amended into a study that created a 13-member task force made up of business leaders, worker advocates and labor representatives. The task force met at the end of last year, taking into consideration expert studies, actuarial reports, Gov. Jared Polis’ feedback and public comment.
The task force was unanimous on several issues, including the definition of a family member and that the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment would have full control of the program. The report doesn’t mean legislators will take all – or even any – recommendations. Lawmakers will continue to work to bring a bill forward during the 2020 legislative session, which opened yesterday.
Here is a breakdown of the report:
- Under what circumstances could an individual take leave? The task force unanimously supported paid leave for:
- Parents following childbirth or adoption
- People caring for family members
- Individuals taking part in foster care
- Individuals on military service-related leave.
- The definition of family includes a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, grandchild, grandparent, sibling, parent-in-law and parent of domestic partner, which is broader than the current definition of family in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Eight members supported expanding the list to “loved ones” not included in this family definition. They also recommended making leave available for people experiencing their own medical issues, including medical recovery from childbirth, domestic violence recovery, sexual assault, stalking and organ donation.
- Who would be eligible? The task force unanimously supported an eligibility trigger of $2,500 in wages earned over a rolling year period.
- What would be the maximum length for leave? The task force did not reach consensus on length of leave. An actuary hired by the task force provided estimated costs for a low-benefits model that would allow for six weeks for family leave and six weeks for medical leave (estimated cost of $1.168 billion) and a high-benefits model that would allow for 14 weeks for family leave and 14 weeks of medical leave (estimated cost of $2.3 billion).
- Would employers be required to participate? The task force unanimously supported allowing self-employed workers to opt into the program with a three-year participation requirement. Employers also could opt to provide their own programs if they meet the minimum standards of the state program.
- How would the program be funded? The task force was split. Eight members agreed that employees should fully fund the state-run program through a mandated payroll tax. Nine members voted to recommend that if lawmakers proposed a program with costs split between employers and workers, small businesses (those with 15 or fewer employees) would be exempt. Eleven voted to support that lawmakers consider various ways, including tax breaks or grant programs, to lower the cost on small businesses.
- When would the program be available? The majority of members supported a timeline that would establish the program July 1, with education and outreach beginning Jan. 1, 2022, a funding stream established Jan. 1, 2023, and benefits being paid beginning Jan. 1, 2024. The members who voted against that timeline believe the program could be implemented faster.
At the Chamber’s Business Legislative Preview on Monday, Speaker of the House KC Becker (D-Boulder) and Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) both said they anticipate a bill coming forward but will look for compromise in the coming session.
The Chamber remains committed to our position, which would be the creation of a program that:
- Is market-based.
- Aligns eligibility with FMLA.
- Doesn’t force employees to pay a mandatory payroll tax.
- Gives employers an ability to opt out if they already offer paid leave.
- Offers flexibility for small businesses.
We will continue to advocate on your behalf and update you on how this issue moves throughout the session.
Jennifer Kostka Beck is the communications and marketing director for the Chamber.