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Lawmakers to Consider Paid Family Leave Insurance

Nebraska workers could be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a newborn child, if lawmakers approve LB 311. (Pixabay)
Nebraska workers could be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a newborn child, if lawmakers approve LB 311. (Pixabay)
January 31, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. – Just 16 percent of Nebraska workers currently have access to paid family and medical leave, but a new bill making its way through the state Legislature would create a statewide insurance pool to allow nearly all workers to be with family when health issues arise.

Tiffany Seibert Joekel, research and policy director of the Women's Fund of Omaha, says too many workers are forced to choose between being with loved ones when they're sick, or spending critical time with a newborn, and their jobs.

"LB 311 would make it so no Nebraskan has to choose between caring for their family and maintaining their responsibilities to their employer," she explains.

To pay for the measure, employers would contribute less than 1 percent of wages into an insurance pool that could be tapped to pay qualified workers up to two-thirds of the state's average weekly wage.

Critics of the measure argue that the costs could be too high for small businesses, and lead to higher prices for consumers.

Joekel says businesses that offer family leave have found it increases productivity, because workers are more fully present when they don't have to worry about what's happening at home.

She also maintains the measure will help businesses currently struggling to find qualified workers.

"We think this will help attract and retain and keep our best and brightest here in Nebraska who want to be here to raise their families,” Joekel states. “This simply makes being an employee in Nebraska more attractive. You don't have to choose between your job and your family."

Amy Salerno had to take unpaid time off from her job as a speech pathologist in Omaha after her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent surgery earlier this month.

She says she's grateful for the support from family and friends to help weather the financial setbacks, but she adds that not all Nebraskans are so fortunate.

"When he woke up from surgery, he was paralyzed on his whole right side of his body and he couldn't communicate,” Salerno relates. “I didn't feel right leaving him in the hands of people that didn't know him. He would grab my hand when I would try to leave to kind of express that he didn't want to be alone."

The Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act, introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford (D-Bellevue), is set to be heard Monday in the Legislature's Business and Labor Committee.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE