Budget Committee Balks At Polis’ Plan To Give Paid Family Leave To State Employees

January 23, 2020
Gov. Jared Polis gives his second State of the State address, Jan. 9, 2020. Gov. Jared Polis gives his second State of the State address, Jan. 9, 2020. Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Gov. Jared Polis gives his second State of the State address, Jan. 9, 2020.

Colorado’s bipartisan Joint Budget Committee has already put the brakes on one of the things Gov. Jared Polis wanted in his State of the State address. The group unanimously voted against his plan to give state workers eight weeks of paid family leave.

Adding that benefit would cost $7.3 million out of the state’s general budget fund.

“Primarily there’s a disagreement between the executive and legislature about whether they have the statutory authority to grant this new benefit,” said Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno, the vice chair of the powerful joint budget committee.

One senior staffer for the governor called it a curious decision and was “saddened by the message it sends to state workers.” A spokesman for the governor said Thursday’s decision was unfortunate.

“Although the governor is disappointed that the JBC has now twice denied this administration’s commonsense approach to support our state employees, we are hopeful that they will reconsider the importance of our state employees and provide this important benefit,” said Conor Cahill.

Despite the committee’s vote, the final budget is far from being approved. All of the other legislators have yet to weigh in. That debate will likely happen in March.

“I firmly believe that state employees, and every single Coloradan, should have access to a paid family leave program so that no one has to choose between taking time off to care for a loved one and keeping their job,” said Democratic Rep. Daneya Esgar, the chair of the JBC. “We had to make a difficult decision due to the lack of existing authorizing statute and our desire to focus on creating a statewide program that benefits everyone. I'm hopeful that we will make meaningful progress this session towards this important goal."

But Democrats who hold the majority at the capitol don’t agree on the best way to create a paid leave program. Polis does not support a state run model, and instead would like the private sector to implement it. The governor’s comments put him at odds with a plan some Democratic lawmakers have pushed for years and were hoping to finally make a reality this session.

Meanwhile Republicans and members of the business community have questions about what a paid leave program would cost businesses and employees.

The issue has also come up for state legislators after Democratic Sen. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood gave birth to a baby boy last week. Colorado has no explicit provisions in place for a lawmaker who wants to take parental leave during the legislative  session. A lawmaker does get nearly six weeks of paid time off, after that it’s up to the discretion of legislative leaders. Pettersen wants to extend guaranteed parental paid leave to three months during the legislative session.