Dirk Draper
Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC

The State Legislature is considering a proposal to create a mandatory new state program that will cost every working person and business in the state and significantly damage Colorado’s economy. Senate Bill 19-188, the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, would create the most expansive and costly paid leave program in the nation, taking a minimum of a billion dollars out of the state’s economy each year.

Our issue is not with the concept of paid leave that would allow Coloradans to take care of sick family members, care for new babies, or their own health issues. But while other states offer a reasonable safety net of four to eight weeks paid leave, pay out 50-66 percent of wages, and administer the program through existing state agencies, this program proposes 12 weeks of leave, higher wage replacement rates, and a new division of state government to oversee administration.

The program offers benefits not just for people with whom an employee has a legal or biological relationship (spouse, parent, or child) but to anyone an employee has an emotional relationship with. Qualifying conditions for using paid leave include a number of vaguely defined conditions, anything relating to a family member’s impending call to active duty military service, and “threatened acts of stalking.”

Unlike federal law that protects an employee’s job while he or she takes care of family medical issues, this bill does not offer an exemption for small businesses and requires an employee to work just 680 hours to qualify, about half that required by federal law. Worse, once an individual qualifies with one employer, he or she can take that to a new employer, meaning on day one at a new job, an employee could invoke 12 or more weeks of paid leave and job protection. The bill does not require employees to take the leave after exhausting sick or vacation leave, or concurrently with federal leave, meaning he or she could be absent for 24 consecutive weeks.

Recent fiscal analyses prepared by the legislature’s own nonpartisan staff show the program will gobble up $18.8 million per year and require 207 employees just to run it, and that even modest usage rates will result in deficit spending almost as soon as the program begins paying benefits.

Colorado Springs’ unemployment rate is less than 3 percent, ensuring many employment opportunities for our workers. If this program is implemented, employers holding jobs for absent employees for 12 to 24 weeks will find it difficult to gain temporary employees, particularly in positions that require security clearances, nursing degrees, or other high-demand, short-supply skill sets. Our Colorado economy is booming right now, but that won’t last forever. The burden on individuals and on businesses of funding such a bloated program will worsen. My own nonprofit, the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, will have to fundraise a minimum of $20,000 to cover our 24 employees, but I’m grateful we would have that option — for state government, tax revenue that would normally go to schools, roads and bridges, and other important work will be diverted to cover FAMLI costs.

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Any business contemplating coming to Colorado Springs, or anywhere in Colorado, will have to factor in how this program would seriously affect their overhead and the stability of their workforce. We call upon the state legislature to vote down Senate Bill 188. Instead of this bloated proposal, let’s thoroughly study the actual costs of a paid leave program and start with a reasonable safety net for major, most common life events that will protect employees and our economy.

—Dirk Draper is president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC. He can be reached at ddraper@cscedc.com.