- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The state Assembly again voted on Tuesday to allow workers to take paid time off to care for a new child or a sick loved one.

Similar proposals have passed four times before, only to get hung up in the Senate, but supporters sense an opening this year. Polls show broad public support and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has offered his own proposal.

“The U.S. remains the only industrialized nation in the world to not offer paid family leave,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx.

The measure that passed the Assembly would provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off, funded through a payroll deduction that would cost employees 45 cents per week in the first year. When fully phased in, the maximum weekly benefit would be capped at a level based on the average state wage. Using current figures, the benefit would top out at $633 weekly.

Rhode Island, New Jersey and California have similar laws on the books.

In New York, earlier attempts to pass paid family leave have run into trouble in the Republican-led Senate. But this year Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, has said he is open to the concept behind the proposal - as long as it doesn’t burden businesses.

In the Assembly, critics questioned whether businesses would be able to adjust to the absences or whether some workers would abuse the system by repeatedly taking off 12 weeks each year.

“We need to be very careful that we don’t put ourselves in a situation where we punish those employers,” said Assemblyman Andy Goodell, a Chautauqua County Republican.

A Siena College poll released this week found that 80 percent of voters support paid family leave.

Cuomo’s paid family leave proposal differs from the Assembly’s plan in certain details, including how benefit levels would be phased in. Cuomo’s administration says the governor will amend his proposal to bring it closer in line with the Assembly version.

Vice President Joe Biden joined Cuomo at an event last week intended to focus on the need for paid family leave.

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, offered a preview of the upcoming debate in the Senate by applauding the Assembly’s action.

“No New Yorker should be forced to choose between caring for a loved one in need and potentially losing their job or ability to support themselves,” she said. “… I urge the Senate Republicans to drop their opposition to this essential program.”

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