Paid family leave bill sponsor says her bill exempts small business—the problem is that it doesn’t

Jan 17, 2017

Today I discussed Senator Karen Keiser’s proposed paid family and medical leave bill (SB 5032/HB 1116) with the Senator and radio host John Carlson on KVI (570 AM).

Humbly describing her own bill as “elegant,” Senator Keiser made her case as to why imposing yet another one-size-fits-all government mandate that will cost employers and workers hundreds of million every year is a great idea.

I made the point that employers just saw their labor costs increase significantly with passage of Initiative 1433, which increases the minimum wage to $13.50 and mandates every employer provide every worker with paid sick leave.  Another costly labor mandate, which would allow workers to take up to 6 months off with a maximum benefit of $1,000 per week (and all a worker needs to qualify is clocking 340 hours), financed by employers and workers, is the last thing needed right now.

After all, not only would employers be paying for half of the new paid leave program’s cost, but they end up paying twice when one takes into account they must pay the wages of someone to do the job of the person taking the leave.  That’s a heavy lift for the state’s smallest employers.

In response, Senator Keiser said her bill exempts employers with fewer than 15 workers.

After poring through Sen. Keiser’s 34-page bill at least a dozen times over the past few days, I was dumbfounded.  How did I miss an exemption for the state’s smallest employers?

The good news is I didn’t miss anything.  The bad news is there is no exemption for employers with fewer than 15 workers; the paid leave benefits in Sen. Keiser’s proposal would apply to every single employer and worker in the state. 

The one provision in Sen. Keiser’s bill that accounts for the state’s smallest businesses requires employers to restore the worker to their previous position “in the same manner and under the same conditions.”  Even then, the exemption is only for businesses with eight or more employees when the person is hired; not 15.  The current exemption is 25 employees.  

So bottom line, the paid leave benefits in Sen. Keiser’s bill, which would be, by far, the most generous (meaning it would likely be the most expensive) in the nation, would impact each and every employer and worker in the state.  Sen. Keiser may consider that “elegant,” but I liken it more to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. 

Whether Sen. Keiser’s incorrect information was designed to purposefully mislead the public, or whether she simply does not understand the intricacies of her own legislation, remains to be seen.  Regardless, every employer and worker in the state should receive accurate information from the sponsor of a bill that would have such significant impacts on our state’s businesses.