Colorado state employees who have worked for the government for at least 12 months soon will be eligible for up to two weeks of paid family medical leave, Gov. Jared Polis announced Monday.
The program will launch in January, and workers will be able to use the 80 hours to recover from illness, care for a new child or look after a loved one. The plan announced Monday is scaled back from previous versions of an eight-week leave program that the governor had tried to get the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee to approve.
“One of the core values of my administration is supporting families. … I am proud to say that paid leave will now be a reality for state employees, many of whom have worked day and night during this past year to ensure that we can save the lives of Coloradans and come out stronger from this public health crisis,” Polis said in a statement.
Colorado voters in November approved a paid family and medical leave program for all workers for up to 12 weeks, but that doesn’t go into full effect until 2024. State employees will be able to access two weeks of paid leave until the expansion in 2024.
“The proposal that the governor has put together is really just a bridge until we get to full implementation of the paid family and medical leave program,” said Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat and chair of the Joint Budget Committee.
Polis’ latest attempt to pass paid family and medical leave for state employees was unanimously rejected in March because of concerns that the governor didn’t have the authority to institute such a program, estimated at the time to cost about $10 million, through the budgeting process. But the two-week program is expected to cost about $2.5 million to backfill positions, and existing funding from the state employees benefits program will be used, rather than asking for the JBC’s approval.
The Group Benefits Plan Reserve Fund has leftover funding because of decreased medical use during the pandemic, according to the governor’s office. The state has enough money to fund the program through 2021, but the employees’ union and governor’s office may have to ask for more funding from the General Assembly for the future.
If the governor’s office does return with a request to the JBC, Moreno said they will have to have another conversation about statutory authority, but unlike previous requests, this is not a proposal for a new permanent program; it’s significantly paired down from previous versions, and Colorado voters have chosen to enact paid leave for all workers, including state employees. He said he’s glad the state can offer this benefit to its employees and is appreciative of the consultation with the JBC.
Polis’ office believes it has the authority to approve this program through the Department of Personnel and Administration and is awaiting further analysis from the ColoradoAttorney General’s Office.
Colorado WINS, the state employees’ union, applauded the benefits, with executive director Hilary Glasgow calling them a “step in the right direction” as the group looks to negotiate its first contract with the state.
“Expanded benefits for the people that stand on the front lines of the COVID response, no matter the color of their skin or the size of their paychecks, gets to the heart of Colorado WINS’ partnership with the state. When we work together to protect all workers and provide access to paid leave, state employees can better protect their communities, their families and themselves,” Glasgow said in a statement.
Glasgow expects that the program will affect the vast majority of the more than 30,000 state employees. Colorado state employees’ compensation lags 16.9% behind the private sector and has gone backwards by 14% over the last three years, according to state data.
This content was originally published here.