Legislature approves paid family leave measure; governor hails passage

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Legislature on Friday night approved a paid family leave program that offers workers paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or the serious medical condition of the worker or the worker's family member.

The measure passed the House on a 65-29 vote Friday shortly after the Senate passed it on a 37-12 vote. It now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

The bill, which was a compromise reached between Republicans and Democrats after weeks of negotiation, offers eligible workers 12 weeks of either leave beginning in 2020, or 16 weeks for a combination of both. An additional two weeks may be used if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy.

Under the measure, both employers and employees pay into the system, and weekly benefits are calculated based on a percentage of the employee's wages and the state's weekly average wage.

“This is really important to me personally, I hope my two sons will have kids soon and I want them to have this policy available to them. I was able to care for my mother as she died a couple years ago, it was a privilege to be able to do that, but I don’t think it should be a privilege it should be a right that everyone ha,” said Marilyn Watkins, who is the policy director for the Economic Opportunity Institute.

She says her coalition has been working for months to get the Legislature to enact the paid family and medical leave. Watkins says although tech companies in our state have added or increased some form of paid medical leave, most people don’t have leave available to them.

“We think this is going to are really phenomenal for the people of Washington,” said Watkins.

Among other things, the bill would allow for both parents to have 12 weeks of paid family leave to take care of their newborn child or family members with serious illnesses.

The bill passed the state Senate around 9 p.m. Friday to cheers, clapping and tears from Watkins who said it was one step forward in this very personal fight and a victory for democracy.