Romer: Proposed family leave bill bad for business (column) | VailDaily.com

Romer: Proposed family leave bill bad for business (column)


The proposed FAMLI leave bill — SB19-188 — creates a mandatory program that grants paid leave to employees with the guarantee of their job upon return. This applies to every employer in the state that has one to 1 million employees.

An employee is eligible for paid leave after working for 90 days and can take up to 12 weeks (an additional four weeks if for childbirth and bonding) with a guarantee of their job being held open. The insurance pool that would fund the worker’s benefits is paid for through a fee assessed on payrolls — half is taken from the employee and half from the employer.

We write today to express opposition to Senate Bill 188 and its almost $1 billion fiscal impact. Vail Valley Partnership supports family and medical leave, and we agree that we have better outcomes for employees and employers when it is available. However, we have concerns about:

• The scope of the program, which is among the most generous family leave programs in the country, and the sheer cost to operate it. In just four years, the program will cost close to $900 million. Under Senate Bill 188, employees could be eligible for up to 16 weeks of leave after only 17 weeks of full-time employment, which concerns all businesses, but in particular organizations that employ seasonal and short-term workers.

• The potential loss of richer benefits when companies are forced to forgo their programs because this bill would create a mandatory program. Other states have allowed employers who already offer leave to opt out -— something not provided to Colorado companies with this proposed bill. This bill won’t cover the full salary of employees, so many employees can’t count on this financially. Rather than incenting companies to do more, this bill punishes companies that already offer generous leave programs, forcing them to administer multiple programs and weave together benefits.

• The current bill does not conform with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. This will create eligibility inconsistencies and confusion as well as increase the administrative burden for businesses and nonprofits, many of which don’t qualify for FMLA today due to their size and therefore have no experience with government leave requirements.

If that’s not enough, we are extremely concerned that this program won’t be fiscally sound, meaning the money won’t be there to pay salaries when needed. As noted by the Denver Metro Chamber, other states have introduced or passed family leave bills. In Washington, the cost just to create the technology infrastructure and staffing was $80 million, and will continue to cost more than $100 million each year, before any benefits are paid out. As we look at estimates here in Colorado, we’re deeply concerned that costs are being underestimated to start and maintain this program. Currently, legislators are setting aside $50 million to start this program. But once it’s in its first full year of operations, the cost to run and pay benefits will approach $1 billion. Meanwhile,  Washington is allowing employers who offer leave to opt out — something not provided to Colorado companies with the bill proposed here.

Let’s incent employers to do more, rather than mandate a one-size-fits-all approach that punishes those that have already taken steps to provide leave to their employees. Colorado’s employees deserve to have confidence that their family medical leave will be there when they need it.

We urge our elected officials to oppose Senate Bill 188 as it is currently drafted. Adding fees and increasing the cost of doing business in Colorado is not the right solution.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.