EDITORIAL: Badly needed FAMLI paid-leave measure goes from bad to worse — start over

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Colorado businesses and employees alike would greatly benefit from a state-run program allowing workers to take time off to care for newborns or loved ones in medical crises — but not Senate Bill 188.

This convoluted and unworkable plan continues to devolve as bill sponsors now try to appease business-lobby critics who will likely never sign onto any kind of family leave legislation.

We applaud the sentiment and goals of the bill’s proponents, but prime sponsors need to scrap this well-meaning but doomed effort and start over.

The measure would create a new employee tax — which sponsors say is a fee. Whatever it is, it’s split among workers and businesses to create a new insurance program. The program would pay part of a worker’s wages for up to 12 weeks so employees could care for a new-born or an ailing friend or family member.

It’s a badly needed effort that would be a great boon to not only workers, but their employers, too. Insured employees would get partial-paid time off from work, but benefit checks for up to 12 weeks come from the insurance system, not the employer. That allows business to hire temporary workers or pay overtime to other workers to help pick up the slack.

Most important, it would provide much needed financial relief to the working and middle class who desperately need time off from work to care for a new baby or someone they’re close to who is seriously ill or dying.

Compelling stories about people having to be at work while their loved ones die alone — or face financial ruin because they choose to do the humane thing — are widespread and real. The need for this bill speaks to a state where the cost of living and the lack of livable wages make luxuries like caring for a dying loved one something reserved only for the state’s wealthiest residents.

The problems with Senate Bill 188 are numerous, however.

Business lobbies are demanding that the measure limit who qualifies as someone worthy of taking time away from work to care for. That’s wrong. Allowing the government or insurance companies to define relationships detracts from many who need measures like this for “family” members who aren’t defined like that by law.

The bill was also made worse by allowing for a growing number of businesses, as well as cities and counties, to opt out of the measure, certainly undermining its financial viability. With a weakened financial foundation, actuaries will be hard pressed to sign off on the system.

As far as being a financial burden on businesses or employees, that’s an overblown argument. The cost of the insurance, split among employers and employees, is reasonable if financial projections pan out.

And bill sponsors quickly addressed early criticisms about the measure not capping premiums feeding the new insurance plan.

The biggest problem, however, is the funding mechanism for this insurance. Proponents have dubbed regularly docked wages to fund this program “fees.” Clearly, under the eyes of Colorado law, it’s a tax.

Bill sponsors are calling it a fee in an effort to get around the insufferable, so-called Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Doing that, however, dooms the measure to being tied up in courts, possibly for years, before it is inevitably ruled that it is indeed a tax.

Pull Senate Bill 188 and create a reasonable measure that reduces pay benefits to a more affordable and sustainable eight-week limit. Allow employees to decide whom they need to miss work to care for, and call the funding mechanism what it really is, a tax. Then ask voters to enact the measure, ensuring that it can take effect immediately and without the threat of being stalled in courts.

But don’t doom this important issue by drawing inevitable and damaging opposition to a measure that has no hope for success.