LINCOLN--Taking time off of work for medical reasons might not be such a strain on Nebraskans' wallets if two bills in the Legislature are passed.
The Business and Labor Committee heard testimony on those bills Monday afternoon.
Legislative Bill 955, the Paid Family Medical Leave Act, would give employees six consecutive weeks or 42 intermittent days of paid leave to cover things such as taking care of a sick family member or having a baby.
Current federal law allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave. All employees would pay into a fund to cover the cost of the proposed new state law.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, said in her opening, "This bill allows families to be caretakers as well as breadwinners."
Dubas cited an AARP survey that found that 44 percent of Nebraskans had to take time off to care for a sick family member. She also said the United States is the only advanced economy to not offer paid medical leave and said she hopes Nebraska can be a leader in making this a more common practice.
She also stressed that employers would see benefits from LB 955 as well. Allowing employees paid time off would increase employee morale, making them more productive and less likely to quit.
"The best argument for paid family medical leave? It's simply the right thing to do," Dubas said.
LB 1090, introduced by Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, would require most private employers to allow their employees to earn at least one of hour paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, amounting to no more than 40 hours. This would allow employees to take time off to care for either themselves or their children without putting other employees or customers at risk of becoming ill, too.
It's just not economical to stay home from work if you're sick, Conrad said. She cited a study that showed 43 percent of Nebraskans lacked paid sick leave.
Members of several organizations, including Voices for Children in Nebraska, AARP and Nebraska Appleseed, testified in favor of the bill.
Molly McCleery of Nebraska Appleseed said, "Nebraskans shouldn't have to choose between family and career."
McCleery said her organization's only concern about LB955 was that there should be a cap on how much money can be taken out of an employee's paycheck to fund the paid leave.
Ron Sedlacek, who testified in opposition on behalf of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, said the bill had too many unanswered questions for the chamber to support it.
Other opposition, including Robert Hallstrom of the National Federation of Independent Business and Harvey Sankey who represented the printing industries of the Midwest, cited concerns about small businesses, saying it could put unnecessary pressure on them.
Sankey said employers would hire fewer employees, cut hours and even raise prices to comply with the terms of the legislation.