Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown vetoes expansion of unpaid leave for new parents

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, embraces Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León as she casts her vote for the state budget on June 15, 2016.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, embraces Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León as she casts her vote for the state budget on June 15, 2016. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Citing concerns about the potential liability for small businesses, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday vetoed legislation to expand unpaid leave for new parents to bond with their children.

“As I understand, an amendment was offered that would allow an employee and employer to pursue mediation prior to a lawsuit being brought,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “I believe this is a viable option that should be explored by the author.”

Senate Bill 654, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would have required businesses with at least 20 employees to offer workers six weeks of protected leave within the first year of a child’s birth, adoption or foster care placement. Workers also would have been guaranteed to maintain their health coverage during that time. They will still be eligible for the state’s paid family leave program offering partial wage replacement.

Existing job protections apply only to employees at businesses with 50 or more employees. The expansion would have covered another 6 percent of businesses and up to 2.7 million more workers, or 16 percent of the California workforce.

The bill advanced through the Legislature in the final weeks of session along largely partisan lines, despite opposition by the California Chamber of Commerce, which slapped it with the dreaded “job killer” label.

Business groups argued that the new mandate would overwhelm small employers and warned that it would lead to lawsuits, while family organizations said it was needed for low-wage earners who don’t take advantage of the state’s paid family leave program for fear losing their jobs.

SB 654 is the second Jackson bill expanding unpaid family leave that Brown has vetoed in the last two years. In a statement, she said she was “deeply disappointed” and would continue to “advance this important issue in the future.”

“This bill would have corrected an inequity in current law that leaves millions of new parents without the ability to take advantage of the Paid Family Leave Program they already pay into without the fear they could lose their jobs if they do,” she said. “I believe everyone deserves the basic right to take time off to care for a newborn.”

The policy took a circuitous root to the governor’s desk.

In June, another version of the measure appeared to fall victim to the Capitol’s typical personal rivalries: After Jackson and other women lawmakers called on Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-Baldwin Park, to take a leave of absence over domestic violence allegations, he killed her measure in the Assembly committee he chaired.

But Hernández was stripped of that assignment when a judge granted a restraining order to his ex-wife, clearing the way for Jackson to reintroduce unpaid family leave in SB 654.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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