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    Family Time

    California becomes first state to enact paid family leave.

    LOS ANGELES -- California has become the first state in the country to enact a comprehensive paid family-leave program that allows workers to take six weeks off to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child or ill family member. Under the new law, which expands the state's existing disability insurance program, employees will be eligible to receive 55 percent of their wages during their absence, up to a maximum payment of $728 a week.

    Supporters hope the law will serve as a nationwide model, while business groups, such the California Chamber of Commerce, denounce it as too costly for employers. The group led a coalition that tried to kill the measure, specifically because of the impact it could have on smaller business. "It's very discouraging, and California small businesses are going to pay the price for this bill," Julianne Broyles, a lobbyist for the state Chamber of Commerce told the Associated Press. "They are going to have to compete with similar businesses in other states that don't have to contend with this. It's a very bad bill for the governor to sign."

    The law, Broyles said, fails to address the real cost to employers, which includes paying for additional overtime, replacement workers and training. 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. Twenty-seven other states, including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Washington, have introduced similar legislation.

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