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A renewed push to mandate paid medical and family leave in Nebraska

'We think no one should have to choose between a paycheck or to be able to care for themselves or family'
Posted at 6:47 PM, Nov 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-16 19:47:44-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — There has been a renewed push for mandated paid leave for workers. This can include sick pay for themselves and taking time off to care for family.

“We think no one should have to choose between a paycheck or to be able to care for themselves or family,” said Jo Giles, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Omaha.

For the last several years, the Women’s Fund of Omaha has been pushing for Nebraska to require paid leave in a variety of forms: paid sick leave, paid family leave, paid safe leave.

So far businesses are not mandated to give employees any of these benefits, but some companies choose to offer employees the protections.

“Paid time off is crucial for workers to be able to care for themselves, care for a family member, to care for a close relative and then still be able to be productive and loyal to their business,” said Giles.

State senator and candidate for congress, Tony Vargas sponsored a bill this past year that failed on the legislative floor. He says he’s close to the issue because he and his wife are working parents. Vargas is expecting similar bills to come back next year.

“I think the time is now. I think we’re seeing that more companies are going down this route and more importantly, we're seeing more support for paid family leave because we’re one of the only real industrialized nations that has not gone down this route,” said Vargas.

These bills routinely are not supported by conservative, often rural, lawmakers who said last year on the Unicameral floor that it hurts small businesses.

“We can't afford any more mandates,” said Senator Curt Friesen during debate on a paid family leave bill in 2020.

Paid leave laws are also often halted by the business community.

In a statement to 3 News Now, head of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, Bryan Slone said Congress — not state lawmakers — should take the lead, so there’s not a patchwork of laws across the states.

Businesses also don’t want a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Employers need to have the leeway to work with employees and new hires to construct benefits packages that work for their sector, region, economic conditions and employee base,” said Slone.

But Giles says until there is a law some businesses will choose to not offer employees paid leave, which will force their employees to come to work sick or miss precious family time.

“I think we do need a law for this to happen because not all businesses are operating at the same level in terms of providing these benefits for workers,” said Giles.

Both supporters and opponents of paid leave point to the current climate as a reason to pass, or not pass, paid leave policies.

Advocates say the pandemic showed that families need flexibility and assurance that they can take time off when needed.

But Zoe Olson, Executive Director of the Nebraska Restaurant Association, points to hiring challenges and the rising cost of goods like frying oil and take-out boxes.

“How many more things do we want to add to our nation’s second-largest industry and expect them to stay in business?” said Olson.

With Democrats in Congress seeking to pass the Build Back Better plan, which includes investments in paid family and medical leave, it appears Americans support it.

A recentCBS News pollshowed 73% of Americans want the federal government to pay for these policies, compared to 27% that oppose it.

“The data overwhelmingly supports paid leave, paid sick leave are really good investments in people. And when we invest in people, countries and economies thrive,” said Vargas.

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