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New Jersey lawmakers poised to offer 6 weeks of paid leave to workers caring for relatives
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    TRENTON, N.J.  — New Jersey may be poised to become the third state to require companies to offer six weeks of paid leave to workers wishing to care for a new child or sick relative.
    The Assembly approved the Democratic plan last month and Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine supports it, but the measure is opposed by Republicans and business groups. The Senate was to consider it Monday and it is expected to pass.
    Under the plan, which is backed heavily by organized labor, parents could take paid leave anytime in the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.
    Workers would be allowed to take paid leave to care for a sick relative receiving inpatient care in a medical care facility or under continuing supervision from a health care provider. A health provider could also certify a sick relative needs help at home.
    The program would be paid for through a payroll deduction that legislative officials estimate would cost workers $33 per year. Workers who take leave would get two-thirds of their salary, up to $524 per week, with an estimated average weekly benefit of $415.
    Opponents liken the payroll deduction to a tax, and they fear it will increase if the program doesn’t earn enough money to meet its needs.
    If it passes, New Jersey would adopt similar policies to those in California and Washington state. Federal law allows some workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
    California allows workers to take up to six weeks paid leave under a 2004 law. Most who have taken leave in the state have done so to care for a newborn, and more women have taken it than men.
    Washington state has approved allowing workers to take five weeks paid leave starting in October 2009, but the program could start late because lawmakers haven’t decided how to pay for it.
    Jim Leonard of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce said the proposed law would impair economic stimulus and hurt employers during tough economic times. Phillip Kirschner, of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, had similar concerns.
    ‘‘Senators should pursue policies that help businesses, not hit workers with a payroll tax increase and employers with mandates that make it harder to do business,’’ Kirschner said.
    Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, the bill’s leading backer, recalled how his daughter spent 75 days in intensive care after she was born four months premature.
    ‘‘My boss understood and allowed me to take off the time I needed,’’ said Sweeney, a Democrat. ‘‘But I can’t imagine having to choose between spending time with my daughter, who was clinging to life, and going to work to put food on the table for my wife and then-four-year-old son.’’
    The state estimates 38,000 workers annually would take paid leave. New Jersey has 4.1 million workers.

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