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Paid medical leave conversation returns to the Capitol

The family leave medical act – and a related but separate bill dealing with paid sick and safe time – both passed out of committee on Monday.

ST PAUL, Minn. — From pregnancy to caring for an aging parent, lawmakers are once again reviewing how to help workers receive paid medical leave.

But the familiar conversation faces an equally familiar challenge: trying to find support in the Minnesota Senate, as evidenced by the passions on display during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Monday.

“So bottom line is we’re going to be collecting premiums – a tax actually – from employers before anyone would get a benefit out of this fund?” asked Rep. Bob Vogel, R-Elko New Market.

Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, quickly responded: “Paying out without having a fund to pay out of would create deficit spending and that isn’t smart budgeting.”

Halverson said her plan covers up to 12 weeks of paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child or to care for an ill relative. The plan is self-sustaining, she said, by adding a small premium onto a worker’s paycheck. She argues the benefit would level the playing field for all businesses and give workers what they deserve.

RELATED: Paid family leave bill debate heats up

RELATED: Renewed push for paid family leave

“Minnesotans leave almost half a billion dollars on the table each year with regard to lost wages from illness and taking non-paid federal leave,” she testified during the hearing.

But Republican representatives continue to raise concerns that stopped the legislation in the Minnesota Senate last year.

“This is going to take the autonomy away from Minnesota workers and Minnesota employers, institute a brand new payroll tax, take the money out of their pockets, place it in the state government in a slush fund,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.

He added: “The alternative would be to reduce taxes on Minnesota businesses and Minnesota workers so that they have more of their money to do more of what they’re doing now and that is taking care of themselves.”

RELATED: Fed workers to get 12 weeks of paid parental leave after 'breakthrough' deal in Congress

The family leave medical act – and a related but separate bill dealing with paid sick and safe time – both passed out of committee on Monday. The full House is expected to vote on the measures on Thursday. So far, Senate Republicans have not scheduled a hearing for the bills.