Measure to create paid family and medical leave program in Colorado to appear on November ballot

An initiative to create a paid family and medical leave program in Colorado was certified for the ballot on August 25, 2020. The initiative is the 10th measure to be certified for the November ballot in Colorado.

The initiative would allow for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and would allow for an additional four weeks for pregnancy or childbirth complications. The program would be funded through a payroll tax to be paid for by employers and employees in a 50/50 split. For the first two years of the program (2023 and 2024), the premiums would be 0.9% of the employee’s wage (0.45% paid by the employer and 0.45% paid by the employee). Employers could choose to pay a larger percentage of the cost up to 100%. Businesses with less than 10 employees would be exempt from paying the premium. Sole proprietors could opt in to the program. Premiums under the program would begin on January 1, 2023, if the measure is approved. Premiums would be adjusted for 2025 so that the total amount of premium contributions to the program equal 135% of the previous year’s claims and 100% of the administration costs. The premium could be set up to a cap of 1.2% of each employee’s wages. A covered individual would receive 90% their weekly wage if their wage is less than 50% of the state average weekly wage (AWW) and 50% of wages that are 50% or more of the AWW, up to a maximum benefit of $1,100 per week.

Colorado Families First is leading the campaign in support of the initiative. According to the most recent reports that covered information through July 27, the committee had received $2.83 million in contributions from four donors: Sixteen Thirty Fund, The Fairness Project, the Colorado AFL-CIO, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The committee reported $2.4 million in cash expenditures, of which, $2.23 million was paid to Blitz Canvassing for signature gathering, resulting in a cost-per required signature of $17.88.

Colorado Families First said, “Eighty percent of Coloradans don’t have access to paid family and medical leave. They can’t afford to take time off work to care for a newborn baby or a seriously ill loved one — something that’s needed now, more than ever. … Currently, 2.6 million Coloradans would benefit from the program. … Coloradans should not have to choose between paying their bills and taking care of their seriously ill family members or having a baby. Eight states, including Oregon, Washington, and Connecticut, have passed similar paid family and medical leave programs. These programs have had lower than expected costs, increased employee retention and have boosted morale.”

Not Now Colorado is leading the campaign in opposition to the initiative. The committee reported $25,000 in contributions from one donor: the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. The committee reported $9,968 in expenditures.

Not Now Colorado said, “[The initiative] is dishonest. To fund the program, proponents designate a ‘payroll premium’ as the source. The premium is actually a payroll tax deducted directly for the paychecks of hardworking Coloradans. … A dual-income family making $110k per year will pay approximately $1,000 per year into this state-run program. This equates to a car payment or a few weeks of groceries for a family. Did anyone ask them if they could afford it? Colorado is in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and an economic recession that has been compared to the Great Depression. Is now the time to ask families who are just getting back to work to pay a payroll tax out of their wages for an unproven, state-run program that they may not ever use? Not Now, Colorado!”

Of the 205,660 signatures submitted by proponents, 137,999 were projected to be valid. To qualify for the ballot, 124,632 valid signatures were required.

As of August 25, 2020, 10 statewide ballot measures were certified for the November ballot in Colorado. Along with the paid family and medical leave program initiative, voters will decide on five other citizen initiatives concerning wolf reintroduction, abortion restrictions, a citizenship requirement for voting, voter approval of fee-based enterprises, and an income tax rate reduction. A veto referendum determining whether Colorado will join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is also on the ballot. The state legislature referred a state statute to increase tobacco taxes and create a new e-cigarette tax to fund various health and education programs and two constitutional amendments: one concerning charitable games such as bingo and raffles and another to repeal the Gallagher Amendment.

One additional initiative concerning expanded maximum bets and gaming types in the state’s casinos could also make the ballot after having submitted over 200,000 signatures in July.

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