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Originally published May 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 8, 2007 at 9:30 PM

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WA paid family leave becomes law, financing uncertain

Starting in October 2009, workers who welcome a new child into the family will get five weeks off and a weekly stipend under a law approved...

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Starting in October 2009, workers who welcome a new child into the family will get five weeks off and a weekly stipend under a law approved Tuesday by Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Lawmakers still haven't decided how they'll pay for the program, giving a new task force six months to study the government's financing options.

But Gregoire and others still praised the measure, which officials say makes Washington the second state after California to offer a paid family leave program.

The plan's main legislative sponsor, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said the compromise bill that passed on the last day of the 2007 Legislature was a "landmark first step."

"Obviously, I preferred my original vision," Keiser said. "But I'm willing to sit down with the task force and work it through."

Under the law, workers would get $250 a week for as long as five weeks to care for a newborn or a newly adopted child.

Employers with 25 or more employees are required to hold workers' jobs open while they are on leave, after they've been employed for a certain amount of time.

The Washington state program requires paid state leave to be taken at the same time as any unpaid federal leave.

Originally, the measure also would have allowed workers to take time off to care for a seriously ill relative, and would have imposed a 2-cents-an-hour tax on employees' pay to cover the benefits.

Business groups were unhappy with that version, saying it would drive up costs for small businesses.

Lawmakers eventually removed the sick-relative provision and the tax, creating a 13-member task force to study how to pay for the program. The study group must report its findings to the Legislature by Jan. 1.

Legislators also authorized a loan of at least $18 million to set up the program over the next two years.

Officials say California is the only other state with paid family leave, but that program allows broader reasons for taking leave and pays up to $882 a week for six weeks.

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