Oregon lawmakers approved a bill on Thursday that would create a statewide family and medical leave insurance fund.
The bill passed the House on a 43 to 15 vote. It now heads to the Senate, where the fate of all bills are uncertain amid an ongoing protest by Senate Republicans who have left the building.
The paid-leave bill would allow Oregon workers up to 12 weeks away from work for family leave, medical leave or to address a domestic violence situation. Currently, most workers in Oregon are protected only under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows for 12 weeks without pay.
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The bill garnered bipartisan support and was crafted with help from the business community.
Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, who owns restaurants in Central Oregon, said she understands the reluctance to this bill.
“A lot of people will be saying, ‘another thing, another ask of me and my business, how am I going to accommodate this?"
Helt told a story of a young employee who had a double mastectomy after discovering a diagnosis of breast cancer.
“We try to care for our employees as if they are our family because they are our family,” Helt said, adding she would be voting in favor of the measure.
If this bill passes, employees can combine the paid leave offered by the state with federal unpaid leave time. The leave cannot exceed 16 weeks in a year or 18 weeks for women who have experienced complications due to pregnancy. Vacation time offered by employers are not included in the cap rate, and could be added to exceed 16 or 18 weeks.
The rate of pay an employee receives during their leave is based on their wages.
Greg Barreto, R-Cove, who owns a manufacturing business, said Oregon continues to treat businesses unfairly.
“I’m asked all the time what it’s like to run a business,” Barreto said. “I don’t run my business, the state actually runs my business.”
The state dictates how much he pays his employees, he said, what kind of benefits he offers, how many hours a week they can work.
Lawmakers keep putting mandates and taxes on small businesses, he said, making them feel unwelcome and incentivizing them to move to other business-friendly states.
The program would operate similar to unemployment insurance, though with workers contributing, as well as employers.
Under this legislation, employers with fewer than 25 employees are exempt from making the employer contributions. For larger companies, employees would cover 60%, with employers contributing 40%. The Oregon Employment Department would base rates on an employee’s wages, with worker contributions not to exceed 1% of that person's earnings.
Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, was a key backer of the bill.
Families, Williamson said, shouldn’t have to choose between having a kid or taking care of a sick loved one and losing their job.