New Jersey appears to be on track to join California and Washington as one of 3 states with a law establishing a paid family leave program.

The bill creating the program, Assembly bill 873, would expand the state’s existing temporary disability insurance program. The expanded program would provide 6 weeks of paid leave for workers at businesses of all sizes who are caring for a baby, a newly adopted child, or a child, spouse, domestic partner, civil union partner or parent who is suffering from a serious health condition, according to the bill text.

Members of the New Jersey Assembly voted 46-30 to approve A. 873, and members of the state Senate voted 21-15 in favor of the bill.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. Nelson Albano, D-Vineland, N.J.

At press time, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine had not yet signed the bill, but he has been a strong supporter of paid family leave proposals. “Earning a living and caring for a loved one should not be an either/or decision,” Corzine said in a statement welcoming the passage of A. 873.

According to an Assembly Appropriations staff analysis of A. 873, the paid leave program created by the bill would:

–Apply to all private and government employees who participate in the state’s unemployment insurance program.

–Require each affected worker to contribute $33 per year to a new family leave insurance fund starting Jan. 1, 2009.

–Permit workers to file claims starting July 1, 2009.

–Require workers to be off work for at least a week before collecting benefits.

–Pay workers two-thirds of their usual pay, up to a maximum of $524 per week.

–Permit workers to take family leave in increments as short as one day.

–Impose no new obligations requiring employers to take employees back after the employees have used paid family leave benefits.

–Give employers the option of using a self-insurance program or a private insurer to provide the paid family leave benefits.

Groups such as the New Jersey Industry & Business Association, Trenton, N.J., have opposed passage of A. 873.

NJIBA President Philip Kirschner says this is the wrong time to create any program that would increase New Jersey employment costs or government expenditures.

“New Jersey cannot even pay for the programs it has now,” Kirschner says.

The NJ Time To Care Coalition, Trenton, N.J., a coalition of labor groups, community groups and other groups, countered opposition to paid family leave proposals by accusing business lobbyists of exaggerating the impact of a paid leave program.