Bill would extend time off for Hawaii workers caring for loved ones

Updated: Feb. 3, 2015 at 7:04 PM HST
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State lawmakers heard from both sides of House Bill 496 Tuesday which would extend paid leave for employees caring for family members.

The bill has a lot of support from working mothers.

Lisa Kimura gently swayed her harnessed infant in the back of Capitol Conference Room 309.

House Bill 496 is currently being heard in the Labor and Public Employment Committee.  It would extend the time workers can take from four to six weeks to care for sick loved ones.  It would establish a Family Leave Trust Fund.  All employees in the state would contribute a percentage of their salary to the fund to help with salary continuance for those on leave.

"This is a no-brainer when it comes to the fact that we have parents who are sacrificing the ability to make ends meat or pay the rent. When it comes to having a new child, that's not the kind of support that we should have for families," says Kimura, a new mom and the Executive Director of the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition.

"Each worker puts in a certain amount according to our TDI (Temporary Disability Insurance) calculation. There's a cap on it so it's not excessively onerous or excessive," says Cathy Betts, Executive Director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

And it's not just working moms, those caring for elderly loved ones also testified in support of the bill.

"As a former caregiver of a wife who had dementia, I know what it is like to be a caregiver," said one man.

A woman who says she is a state worker, testified that she was one of the few lucky ones who had benefits while caring for loved ones, "I utilized paid family leave to care for a sick elder and I am not uncommon as a middle-aged woman who was tapped to care for parents and in-laws."

Opponents include small business owners who would have to pay for temporary workers to fill spots for longer periods of time.

Pono Chong, of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii spoke for those employers, "Some of the concerns that we have, on behalf of our members, 80% of which are small businesses, (are) first, it does change the family leave law from 4 to 12 weeks, which is triple amount."

Chong also says the wording of the bill could mean employees can designate a non-family member as someone they care for while being out of work.

The Labor & Public Employment Committee will vote on the HB496 on Friday.  If it passes, it will move on to another committee for review.

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