California Gov. Gray Davis' signature on a legislation creating paid family leave for most California workers concludes years of effort by people who know that society should not force a person to choose between job and family.
Under the California plan, workers could get up to six weeks of partially paid leave (55 percent of salary, untaxed) to look after a sick child, spouse, parent, or domestic partner. Parents of newborns would also be eligible.
In a society where it usually takes two salaries to support a family, where children are considered a blessing, and where days are set aside to honor mothers and fathers, this legislation is overdue.
However, its financing leaves something to be desired.
Right now the paid leave, capped at $728 a week, would be funded by workers earning $72,000 or more a year. But no one would pay more than $70 a year. That seems patently unfair to those making a decent living. After all, those with lesser incomes would use the benefit as well, and, at a maximum contribution of $70 annually, could afford to pay something into the fund.
Governor Davis went along with the proposal after seeing statistics showing that 75 percent of workers would take time off to care for a sick family member if they could afford it. Most can't. The original proposal, opposed by businessmen who also hate this measure, called for 12 weeks of leave and employer contributions.
The business lobby is also fretting about possible abuse, a legitimate concern. Enron, WorldCom, and others have shown us the risks. The rest of us have borne the financial fallout of their greed.
But policies such as family leave, and the 40-hour week and eight-hour day before it, mark our national progress in civility, honesty, and fairness.
Key to its effectiveness is not only a broader contribution base and a program to curb abuse, but also fair-mindedness in hearing appeals. It's an idea whose time has come.
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