Capitol Alert

Having a California baby? Assembly passes bill seeking to protect your job

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, spoke at a rally on Mar., 10, 2016 at the Capitol.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, spoke at a rally on Mar., 10, 2016 at the Capitol.

New California parents would be able to take unpaid time off without losing their jobs under revived legislation that cleared the Assembly on Tuesday.

The 43-15 vote for Senate Bill 654 marked a critical step in the once-dead measure’s revival. A nearly identical bill fell in the Assembly Labor Committee in June.

That vote came after the bill’s author, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, had publicly called for the committee’s chairman to take a leave given the domestic violence allegations leveled by his ex-wife. Some saw the earlier bill’s failure as an act of reprisal by the committee’s chairman, Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-Baldwin Park (he has denied having the power to block the bill).

But Hernández lost that committee assignment after a judge found his ex-wife’s claims credible, and SB 654 passed a reconstituted version of the labor panel. The new measure, a priority of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, is now a Senate vote away from Gov. Jerry Brown. When it came to the Assembly floor on Tuesday, Hernández voted for it.

“This is a critical thing we need to do to support families,” said Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, adding that “too many new parents in California must struggle to decide between the well-being of their new child and their family’s financial security.’

The bill would expand existing family leave guarantees to workplaces with fewer than 50 employees, allowing parents of newly born or adopted children to take up to six weeks of unpaid leave from those jobs, provided their employer has more than 20 employees, without having to worry about their job having vanished when they return. The expansion is expected to affect 16 percent of employees, up to 2.7 million workers.

Parents could seek money through California’s paid leave program, which Brown and lawmakers moved earlier this year to bolster.

Business interests like the California Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business opposed the bill, calling it an undue burden on employers. Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, warned it would lead to lawsuits and predicted passing the bill would open the door to broader allowances.

“What at one time was unpaid suddenly becomes paid. That is the inevitable direction we are moving and that is why, on the subject of moving, we are seeing businesses leaving the state of California,” Wagner said. “For the first 200-plus years of this country’s history,” he added, “we managed to raise our children at the same time we also managed to do the business that needs to be done to be productive.”

In a statement, National Federation of Independent Business Director Tom Scott said the bill ‘directly targets small businesses at a time when California already mandates a long list of family-friendly leaves of absence on employers” and “creates a significant hardship for small businesses with a limited number of employees who do not have the ability to operate with even one or two staff members on leave for over a month.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert