By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)– Wednesday’s storm brought business to a halt in the state House of Representatives, but the state Senate carried on, debating one of the more controversial bills this session. The Family Medical Leave Insurance Program would give workers paid time off to care for themselves, a sick family member, or significant other.

Kris Garcia (credit: CBS)

Kris Garcia among those who braved the snow to testify on the bill.

“I’ve put off my own medical care in the last couple years as I’ve dealt with my stepdad’s kidney failure, my mom’s cancer,” said Garcia.

She told a Senate committee no one should have to choose between a sick family member and a paycheck.

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“I’ve come here six years to testify because this is important. People’s lives, they get to the point where they don’t know what to do any more.”

The bill creates a state-run insurance program that would apply to anyone who works at least 13 hours a week, year-round at every business in the state, regardless of size.

Employers and employees would split the premiums that would run between $70 a year for a minimum wage employee to around $250 for anyone making over $80,000 a year.

Workers – with a doctor’s note – could take up to 12 weeks off and the insurance would reimburse a percentage of their pay.

Sen. Faith Winter has been working on the bill for years.

Faith Winter (credit: CBS)

“Almost all workers need paid leave at some point in their life. Everyone thinks this is about moms and babies, but this is about when you have cancer or need hip surgery or heart surgery and actually the number one reason for using paid leave is for your own self care,” said Winter.

The Colorado Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Businesses oppose the bill, saying it’s a one size fits all mandate. The bill calls for the state to issue bonds to pay for the program that would cost nearly $900 million a year to operate once fully implemented and require an additional 200 full time state employees.

Jack Tate (credit: CBS)

Sen. Jack Tate says it equates to an income tax hike, “This is very, very expensive – $1 billion dollars – a very expensive solution to anecdotal challenges that probably could be handled better.”

Winter says it ensures every business in Colorado can afford to treat its workers fairly.

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“By all coming together, by having shared responsibility, we are creating an incredibly affordable paid leave program for every single worker in Colorado,” said Winter.

The bill has failed in previous years, but with Democrats in control, it is expected to pass this year.

The bill passed it’s first committee on a party-line vote of 3-2. It heads to the Finance committee before going to the full Senate.

Shaun Boyd

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