ST. PAUL — Workers who become new parents or need to care for themselves or a loved one could get up to 12 weeks of paid leave under a proposal advanced Tuesday, Feb. 23, in the Minnesota Legislature.

Under the plan filed as House File 1200, the state would collect a payroll tax on employers and employees that would feed into a fund similar to Minnesota's unemployment insurance system. For about $3 a week, Minnesotans would contribute to the fund and would be able to take 12 weeks of partially paid time off if they give birth to or adopt a child, become sick or need to care for a family member.

Workers are allowed to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year under federal law but a national survey through the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only about one in five workers have paid family leave time available through their work. And access to that option can vary widely, the bill's author said, leaving gaps in who can take time to care for a new baby or an ailing parent.

"Unfortunately, the reality for many Minnesotans is it's not that simple," Rep. Ruth Richardson, D-Mendota Heights, said. "In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic it has become even more clear, illness can strike at any time for workers without paid leave benefits and individuals are too often left with the impossible choice between caring for a young child or keeping their job."

A coalition of labor and faith groups, along with lawmakers backing the plan, pointed to broader paid sick leave policies adopted in the past year as evidence that a more permanent paid leave program is necessary, even after the pandemic subsides. But business groups, along with Republicans who hold a majority in the state Senate, opposed the idea, saying businesses should have the freedom to tailor their own benefits packages to attract and retain workers.

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Nine states and Washington, D.C., have adopted similar policies and six have programs up and running.

The proposal on a 9-4 vote passed through the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee on Tuesday and was set to come before another House panel. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, on Tuesday said the DFL-led chamber would again take up and pass the bill no matter what leaders in the GOP-controlled Senate said.

"We need people to be able to take time off and take care of their loved ones when they're sick or when members of their family are sick," Hortman said. "We're really hopeful that this is the year that COVID-19 has made it painfully clear to everyone, even Republicans, that it's time to pass paid family medical leave."

The plan continues to face a significant hurdle in the Minnesota Senate, where Republican leaders said they're not interested in a tax increase.

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A spokeswoman for the caucus on Tuesday said GOP senators remain opposed to the plan because it levies a "tax increase on businesses and employers for benefits they may not need and/or may already have."

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, along with business groups around the state, has also spoken out against the bill.

"If the state mandates expansive new benefits without regard for their relevance to the employer and its workforce, its industry or market, costs will go up," business groups said in a letter to the House committee. "The results are reduced staff and job opportunities, hours or both — hurting workers and their families."

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com