A measure that would create statewide paid family leave took a step forward at the state Legislature on Thursday.
Senate Bill 2491 would allow for 16 weeks of paid leave for employees to care for family members such as a newborn baby or a sick parent or child.
Federal guidelines require employers with 50 or more workers to offer 12 weeks of leave, but the time off is unpaid.
Only a portion of the workforce has family leave benefits. As of March 2018, 17 percent of civilian workers had access to paid family leave nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz introduced a measure signed into law by President Donald Trump that gave paid leave to federal employees.
On Thursday, Schatz advised Hawaii community members on how they could work to extend paid family leave statewide.
“Make sure that the labor movement is in the room,” he said. “We’re a state that has a high level of unionization and I believe that’s one of the things that continues to protect the very existence of the middle class. So I think over time, we want to make sure that we sort of aren’t knocking into each other accidentally.”
Under the state family leave measure, employees and employers would contribute money to a statewide social insurance fund that would cover the timeoff, as opposed to mandating companies to fund the leave.
The percentage of wages that employees could receive would be based on a state average. For example, if a person makes 50% or less of the state weekly wage, the worker would receive 90% of their pay. However, weekly wages for workers on family leave would not exceed $1,000.
Chamber of Commerce Hawaii has previously opposed paid family leave because it says it negatively impacts the businesses ability to create and sustain jobs.
Schatz said he would like to see paid family leave adopted in Hawaii, but hopes it can also be approved nationwide.
“What we're proposing to do is not radical,” he said. “It is radical to force people to choose between taking care of their baby and taking care of their finances . . . and that's what we're doing to families right now."