California has become the first state in the country to enact a comprehensive and gay-inclusive paid family leave program that allows workers to take six weeks off to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child, or an ill family member. Under the new law, which expands the state's existing disability insurance program, employees will be eligible to receive 55% of their wages during their absence, up to a maximum payment of $728 a week.
"This bill will make it easier for Californians to help their loved ones through a health crisis without going broke in the process," said Gov. Gray Davis, who signed the bill into law Monday.
Supporters say the bill, which was authored by lesbian state senator Sheila Kuehl, should be a model for other state governments when it comes to including gay and lesbian families in state policy. "This is really a momentous occasion for LGBT Californians," said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of the California Alliance for Pride and Equality. "Perhaps for the first time, same-sex partners are being recognized as equal family members for a newly created benefit. I predict that the success of this bill heralds a new era for gay rights--one in which same-sex couples are automatically recognized and given the same protections and rights as opposite-sex couples by legislators, employers, and everyone else."
Workers will be allowed to start taking time off as of July 1, 2004, under the new program, which will be funded entirely by employee payroll deductions, averaging about $27 a year and ranging up to $70 a year for those earning more than $72,000 annually. About 13 million of California's 16 million workers will be eligible. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to hold a job for a worker who goes on paid family leave, according to the AFL-CIO, which helped write the bill.