Roger Hernández isn’t the only one who needs job protected leave

Assemblyman Roger Hernández, left, was on medical leave as the Legislature reconvened this week.
Assemblyman Roger Hernández, left, was on medical leave as the Legislature reconvened this week. rbenton@sacbee.com

How ironic that Assemblyman Roger Hernández was out sick this week as the Legislature reconvened from its July recess. After refusing to remove a huge obstacle to paid leave for legions of new parents, Hernández took – wait for it – paid leave.

Many workers can only dream of the job guarantees and benefits enjoyed by the Baldwin Park Democrat, who was stripped of his committee assignments earlier this summer after a judge issued a domestic violence restraining order against him. Hernández, accused by his now-ex-wife of beating her, submitted a doctor’s note excusing him from work, his return date uncertain. He has denied ever hurting his wife, blaming their messy divorce for the abuse claims.

Thanks to state job protections, his medical leave won’t jeopardize his $100,113 salary, or put him at risk of being summarily fired before he terms out at the end of this session.

Employees at companies with fewer than 50 employees don’t have such luck. If a new dad at a small company avails himself of the modest, partially paid paternity leave he automatically funds via paycheck deductions, his boss doesn’t need to hold his job for him.

Senate Bill 1166, a priority bill of Democrats in the legislative women’s caucus, would have extended job protection to new parents at companies with 10 or more workers. It would have been a game-changer for adoptive parents and new dads at small companies.

But its author, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, was among the Democratic women and Republicans who, in April, called for Hernández to take a leave of absence while his wife’s request for the restraining order was pending.

Hernández said no; he is challenging U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano of Norwalk for Congress. And shortly before the judge found the wife – who had photos – to be more credible than Hernández – who had been accused of abuse before, by a girlfriend – SB 1166 died in the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, which he chaired.

Don’t ask why Hernández won’t be suspended from the Assembly altogether. Proposition 50, passed by voters in June, lets the Legislature not only sideline him on a majority vote if it wants to, but, if it can muster a supermajority, take his pay. He’s a reliable liberal vote, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon might need him by session’s end.

But there’s no good reason for lawmakers not to revive Jackson’s family leave measure, never mind the usual Chamber of Commerce complaints that it might inconvenience some employers. It’s unfair to dangle a benefit people can’t take. Families shouldn’t pay for political grudges. Let’s rectify this cynical mistake.

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