ST. PAUL – Minnesota businesses strongly oppose legislation requiring them to join a proposed family leave insurance program.
"This is MNsure all over again," Cam Winton of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce told a Senate committee Wednesday as members considered whether to mandate that many employers take part in a program that would provide 12 weeks of parental leave and another 12 weeks of other types of family leave to workers.
Committee members did not finish considering the bill Wednesday and plan to return to pared-down legislation Thursday.
"This bill is a recipe for administrative disaster," Winton said.
He said it would create a state operation worse than MNsure, which has faced a series of problems for three years.
Winton said that MNsure serves 245,000 Minnesotans, while Democratic Sen. Katie Sieben's original bill would have involved many of the 2.9 million Minnesota workers. There was no estimate about how many people would be part of the Sieben program after an amendment slimmed it down.
Before the committee adjourned, senators voted to strip the original bill of the provision that would have given employees 12 weeks of partially paid leave to care for family members. The bill was left with paid leave for new parents, although workers still could take unpaid time off to care for other family members.
The change, authored by Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, also exempted businesses of 20 and fewer workers from the insurance plan.
Sieben, D-Cottage Grove, was not happy with the change by Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Growth Committee. Neither were advocates who support her bill.
"Getting rid of medical leave is a big concern..." Jessica Anderson of Minnesotans for Paid Family Leave said. "We hope senators will rebuild this legislation moving forward."
Sieben introduced her bill earlier this month, with support of Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook. With leadership support like that, efforts to restore Sieben's original bill are likely as the bill moves forward.
The Sieben measure would require businesses and workers to pay for the insurance, leaving the state with little expense other than for employees who would be covered.
Jessica Rohlloff of Kandiyohi County urged senators to restore paid leave to the legislation.
She cared for her grandmother, but still needed to do other things. "What this bill would do is help us to meet those responsibilities."
One small business owner, Todd Mikkelson of Orono, testified in favor of the bill, saying it would cost him and his lone worker $89 a year each to provide the insurance. "It is a fiscally smart investment to make."
However, businesses came forward to complain about the new tax when 75 percent of businesses already provide some type of paid family leave.
"It is a one size fits all mandate," Winton said. "It smothers flexibility."
Winton said that Sieben's bill provides up to 80 percent of a worker's wage, while states with similar laws provide 66 percent.
Mike Hickey of the National Federation of Independent Businesses said his members worry that the Sieben bill allows insurance taxes to rise to more than they pay in unemployment taxes, a major fiscal issue for firms.
"This would be a tax on both employers and employees," added Jill Larson of the Minnesota Business Partnership.
Most Minnesota businesses and workers would be required to participate in the insurance program, but the legislation does provide ability for some to opt out.