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December 30, 2013

States make moves toward paid family leave

On Wednesday, workers in Rhode Island will be among the few in the nation able to, by law, take several weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn, adopted or foster child, or to care for a seriously ill relative.

Rhode Island, where paid family leave was approved by wide margins in the state House and Senate in just one session in July, joins California and New Jersey as the only states to offer workers family leave that is paid not by taxpayers or employers but, like Social Security, out of a pool of employee paycheck contributions.

Washington state has yet to implement a similar law that lawmakers passed in 2008. New York and Massachusetts have paid-leave bills pending. Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire have formed task forces to study the issue. Several states, including North Carolina, Colorado and Oregon, have considered it and may move bills again.

The moves on the state level, advocates say, are a sign that people are tired of waiting for Congress to act to bring workplace laws dating to the 1930s, when a majority of mothers were at home, in line with a modern workforce, in which a majority of mothers work.

"It's about time we did this. We need laws that recognize the way we work and live has changed," said Gayle Goldin, the Rhode Island Democratic senator who successfully championed the paid-leave law there. "Internationally, we stick out like a sore thumb."

Now, lawmakers in Congress are attempting to pass paid family leave as a federal law.

"We're seeing that some of the best Fortune 500 companies already offer paid leave — Ernst & Young, Google, Deloitte," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who recently introduced the Family Medical Insurance Leave Act, or Family Act.

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