Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Senate Passes Parental Leave Bill

A measure that would give parents the right to take time off work to attend meetings with their children's teachers and participate in academic school events gained final Senate approval today.

HB 1057 would allow workers to take 18 hours of unpaid leave during the academic year. The bill would apply only to businesses with 50 or more employees and to businesses in which the leave granted an employee would not endanger the health or safety of another. If the bill becomes law, employees would have to provide their employer with one week advance notice of their intent to take the leave.

Democrats emphasized the importance of parental involvement in improving student academic performance.

"This bill isn’t just about parents, or schools, or kids. This bill is about helping our entire society,” sponsoring Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and a retired educator, said. “We’ve heard in so many places that businesses need to have an educated work force. This is a small step to nurture the education of the youngsters. In addition, smart citizens and an effective work force greatly helps down the road in reducing other costs, like prisons or unemployment.”

Kate Horley, a spokesperson for the Denver Chamber of Commerce, said the state's business community was initially concerned about a lack of "flexibility" in the bill but that amendments in the Senate addressed those worries.

Speaking of her organization, Horley said it would not oppose the measure.

"We’re neutral now because the bill provides the flexibility employers need to ensure that business gets done,” Horley said.

Horley also emphasized that the state's business community recognizes the value in parental involvement in their children's education but said she is skeptical that a mandate will assure that all employers respect the family lives of their employees.

"I understand what Rep. Kerr is trying to do, and while we all applaud the idea that parents should be involved in their children’s lives, legislation will not move bad actors," Horley said.

The party-line vote was 21-13, with only the GOP's Shawn Mitchell of Broomfield absent.

Because the Senate made changes to the bill, the House again considered the measure Wednesday morning. It rejected the Senate amendments and so HB 1057 will now go to a conference committee.