- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - All workers in Minnesota would have access to paid family and medical leave under a new proposal unveiled by a group of Democratic state legislators.

Sen. Katie Sieben and other legislators announced the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act on Monday morning flanked by advocates from around the state. It goes well beyond Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal earlier this year that would extend six weeks of parental leave only to the state’s 35,000 public employees.

“Our current lack of a paid family leave program reflects a time decades ago when the majority of women did not fully participate in the workforce,” Sieben said. “A paid family leave program in Minnesota will ensure that workers have some degree of security when a major life event occurs.”

Sieben’s proposal would guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid leave for pregnancy and medical issues and would also offer 12 weeks to care for a new child or an ill family member.

Intended to be phased in over time, the program would be self-funded equally by employees and employers after the initial startup costs. Program proponents say it would cost an employee making $44,000 a year about $1.70 per week.

The proposal would operate on a progressive, partial wage replacement model, in which the lowest-paid workers would receive the highest portion - up to 80 percent - of their pay.

The program would be mandatory for employees and businesses, but companies that already offer benefits that are comparable or better than the proposed program could apply to be exempted. They would still have to pay some fees to help cover the program’s administrative costs.

Just three states offer paid family leave to public employees - California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A similar measure gained little steam last year in Minnesota’s Republican-controlled House and was strongly opposed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, but Democrats said Monday they were nonetheless optimistic.

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