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California Senate Votes to Expand Parental Leave Law

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Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) backed legislation to expand parental leave in the state.  (Bert Johnson/KQED)

A proposal to expand the state's parental leave protections to small-business employees passed the state Senate, despite Gov. Jerry Brown's opposition to a very similar measure last year.

SB 63, from Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) advanced to the Assembly Tuesday on a party-line vote, with all 13 Senate Republicans voting against the measure.

"Two-point-seven million more Californians will benefit from this measure," said Jackson. "Family lives have changed dramatically in recent decades, but our policies have remained frozen in time.”

The legislation would mandate that businesses with between 20 and 50 employees give their workers 12 weeks to spend with a new child, and guarantee their employment when they return. Currently, those protections are required only of businesses with more than 50 employees. The bill does not require the leave to be paid.

SB 63 was viewed as important by a pair of powerful Capitol constituencies. Its passage was a top priority for the Legislative Women's Caucus, while the California Chamber of Commerce lobbied for its defeat, labeling it a "job killer."

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On Tuesday, Republicans said they support parental leave, but not for smaller businesses. Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Coachella Valley) said his pharmacy would be hurt by the expansion, because his workers provide a specific skill set that is difficult to replace.

"If I get two or three of them that have to leave because of parental or maternal needs, I just can’t go out into the street and hire people to replace them," he said.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed SB 654, a nearly identical provision also written by Sen. Jackson.

The governor emphasized the importance of early bonding time between parents and babies, but wrote in his veto message that he was concerned "about the impact of this leave, particularly on small businesses and the potential liability that could result."

No word on whether the governor is likely to view this new version of the bill differently.

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