COLORADO SPRINGS — If Proposition 118 were to pass in November, it would create a statewide paid family and medical leave program in Colorado.
The program would be paid for by a 0.9% payroll tax, split between employees and employers, to allow for 12 weeks of paid leave for family and medical reasons such as a baby being born, a family member who is sick, or to help a military family member.
The program would pay up to 90% of a lower-income workers’ wages, and up to $1,100 per week for higher earners, based on the state average weekly wage. Employees would be eligible after 180 days of employment and earned at least $2,500.
“I can’t imagine many small business owners who say, ‘No, I don’t really want to provide a benefit to my staff members, but it’s expensive,” said Ashley Henshaw, owner of Stepping Stones Daycare in Littleton.
Henshaw supports Proposition 118 because she says grouping the money together statewide will give her employees the leave benefits that she wouldn’t otherwise be able to provide. Supporters of the measure say it will provide the comprehensive paid leave to the 80 percent of Coloradans who don’t otherwise have it.
“Especially with COVID, now we’ve realized how great risks really are and that illnesses or deaths of a loved one or even time to take care of your mental health, it’s so important,” she explained.
Leave can also be taken for domestic and sexual assault victims or assisting an active duty family member. The measure defines family as the employees “child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, sibling or any indivdual with whom the employee has a significant personal bond that is like a family relationship.” Opponents of the measure say a “significant personal bond” is too vague of language for such a impactful measure.
They also worry about what they see as a lack of flexibility for businesses with paid leave programs already in place.
“The program would have to be exactly the same as what’s in this state proposal, including that provision about the strong emotional bond,” Vice President of the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Coalition Rachel Beck said.
Beck says, businesses would have to pay the state for review of their programs in order to ensure they would meet state guidelines.
The total size of the program is estimated at $1.2 billion. An employee making $26,000 per year would pay $2.25 per week and $117 per year and employees making $78,000 would pay $6.75 per week and $351 dollars per year. Because the cost is split, that’s what a business would have to pay per each employee as well and Beck says that can add up quickly.
“There should be something to address [paid family leave]. It’s not the concept that we take issue with, it’s this particular proposal of how to do it that is so flawed,” she explained.
The Chamber & EDC did an analysis of a similar leave program the Colorado General Assembly was considering in 2019 that would cost businesses alone $35 million each year. Beck says this ballot proposal is “more generous” than that failed bill.
Beck said they’ve tried to negotiate with lawmakers on the issue, suggesting expanding the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 in the state or creating a pay-in system similar to a 401K.
Those are costs Henshaw sees as worth it to keep her staff satisfied.
“I know for myself, that even if it costs me a little bit here or there, I want my staff to be able to take that time off,” said Henshaw.