DENVER (CBS4) - Every employer in Colorado could soon have to offer workers paid time off to care for themselves, a sick family member or significant other. A controversial bill creating a Family and Medical Leave program is a step closer to becoming law after passing the State Senate Finance committee.
Under the bill, employers and employees would pay 50-50 into a billion dollar state-run insurance program. Then, when workers need time off, they can tap into the insurance and get 50-90 percent of their pay for up to 12 weeks.
It would apply to anyone who works at least 13 hours a week year-round at every business, no matter how big or small.
Eric Hale among those supporting the bill says it would have made a difference for his wife who died of cancer just four days ago.
"She felt she needed to provide for her family and she couldn't take time off."
Hale says his wife Rakel was worried about losing pay so she put off going to the doctor until it was too late. She died two weeks after her diagnosis, leaving behind three kids.
"She gave and gave and gave right until the very end."
But, several business groups oppose the bill saying, at a cost of $500 million a year to them, it's equivalent to a 70 percent increase in corporate taxes. Buz Koelbel, owner of Koelbel Real Estate says it's not about compassion.
"You can't take these small number of circumstances and say 'oh, because this is going to happen, we've got to create a billion dollar program that could be a multi-billion dollar unfunded liability in the state.'"
The state has estimated only 3.5 percent of workers will use the program, putting premiums at between $70 and $250 a year for workers and employers. Business groups say usage will likely be higher and that means costs will be too.
But, Sarah Marcogliese, owner of Native Earth Landscape, says it's cheaper than taking out a loan to pay an employee who's wife died of cancer, which is what she did for her foreman Eric Hale.
"When I heard the diagnosis, I said Eric you take off all the time you need and your job will be waiting for you when you get back."
Hale says the bill would benefit all workers.
"This is for all the people who would end up in this same situation. I want to make sure they're taken care of. Nobody should have to go through this."
The bill estimates that the state will need to hire an additional 200 employees to run the insurance program. It calls for issuing bonds to pay for it.
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