- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Marina Gomberg has been storing up vacation and sick leave in preparation for her first pregnancy ever since she started working at the University of Utah more than two years ago. Now four months before her due date she’s accrued nine weeks of paid leave, but worries about not having any time left should she or her baby get sick.

A proposal that would have given her and other state and higher education workers six weeks of paid time off when they become new parents appears to be dead for the year after lawmakers cited confusion over its estimated cost.

Members of a business committee on Thursday voted 9-1 in favor of studying the plan in the legislative session’s off season and possibly introducing it again next year. Lawmakers asked for more clarity, saying the fiscal note doesn’t account for agencies that have to pay to replace employees who take time off.

The proposal’s sponsor, Democrat Rep. Angela Romero of Salt Lake City, said she supports their decision.

The plan would have put Utah, the state with the highest birthrate, among only a handful of U.S. states with similar laws despite growing evidence that paid leave increases the chance of women returning to work. It has also been shown to decrease the chance of a family having to rely on food stamps and to decrease infant mortality.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly encouraged the adoption of paid leave policies.

The decision in Utah comes almost a quarter century after the U.S. took what many considered the first step toward country-wide paid parental leave by offering workers 12 weeks of unpaid time off.

Some states now give paid time off, including California and New Jersey, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonpartisan organization. In Ohio, state workers can take four weeks of leave but will get paid only a partial salary, according to the organization’s 2014 study.

“Everybody, no matter who they work for, what job they have, or what their circumstance, needs access to paid leave,” said Vicki Shabo of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Minnesota’s governor announced a similar push earlier this month to offer paid leave to new parents who work for the state.

Many companies in the private sector have started offering paid leave for new mothers and fathers. Microsoft started offering their employees 12 weeks of paid leave last year, according to a company statement.

Romero said she sponsored the proposal in Utah because she heard from new parents that they had to forfeit spending valuable time with their children because they needed a paycheck.

The Utah plan could have cost the state almost $10 million in lost productivity, according to legislative staff estimates.

A similar proposal failed last year after lawmakers had concerns with the estimated cost.

Stephanie Pitcher of the Utah Women’s Coalition said her organization supports the proposal.

“Many parents are faced with the choice between economic hardship and returning to work prematurely,” she said during the committee meeting.


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