With state and federal legislators no closer to establishing a paid leave program, voters in Colorado appear to have decided to take the job on themselves. Indeed, Colorado voters have reportedly passed a paid family leave program in a major win for working parents throughout the state. The vote is believed to be the first time any U.S. state has moved to secure paid family and medical leave through a statewide ballot measure.
Colorado's Proposition 118, which would establish a paid family a medical leave program, was well on its way of passing with nearly 90% of votes reported. According to The Denver Post, Proposition 118 had garnered 57.2% of votes as of late Thursday morning. Ahead of Tuesday's general election, state lawmakers in Colorado had failed six different times to get paid leave passed in the state legislature, according to The Colorado Sun.
"Voters have sent a clear message that they support progressive work-family policies that allow workers to care for themselves and their families without risking their economic security, which is especially important in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic," Center for American Progress CEO Neera Tanden said Thursday in a statement. "Colorado voters' passage of a strong paid family and medical leave ballot measure is a resounding victory for working families, guaranteeing 2.6 million Colorado workers access to this critical benefit."
Passage of the proposition means all workers in Colorado, including those defined as gig workers or self-employed, will soon receive 12 weeks of paid leave, which can be used in cases of childbirth, adoption, serious personal illness, or the serious illness of a family member. In cases of pregnancy or childbirth complications, workers are entitled to an additional four weeks for a total of 16 weeks of paid leave. The proposition also prevents employers from taking any sort of disciplinary action against employees who request or use the paid leave available to them.
But Colorado's paid family and medical leave benefit won't be available to working parents immediately. The state will first begin efforts to fund the program beginning January 2023 through a payroll tax paid by both workers and employers. The Colorado Sun has estimated the paid leave program will cost workers earning $1,000 a week, roughly $4.50 each week or $234 a year. Employers will pay into the fund the same amount their workers do.
Beginning in 2024, all workers who've earned at least $2,500 at their job will be eligible to apply to receive benefits — up to $1,100 a week — through the fund. Only businesses with less than 10 employees or those who already have comparable paid leave policies have the ability to opt out of the program, meaning all working parents, whether they work in tech, drive for Uber, or waitress, will have access to paid leave if needed.
While Colorado isn't the first state to enact a statewide paid leave program — California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington all have similar programs along with Washington, D.C. — they're the first state to establish the program via a statewide ballot initiative, according to Fast Company and Colorado Public Radio.
Advocates of the proposition celebrated its projected passing late Tuesday. "I am happy for the workers of Colorado," State Sen. Faith Winter told Colorado Public Radio. "The new law will ensure that mothers don't have to return to work mere days after giving birth ... and that cancer patients can take time to heal."