New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, D, has signed Assembly Bill 873, a measure that will provide 6 weeks of paid leave for workers who are caring for new babies, newly adopted children, or family members with health problems.

California and Washington state are the only other U.S. states that now have paid family leave programs.

The program created by A. 873 will include all private and government employees who participate in New Jersey’s unemployment insurance program, according to an Assembly Appropriations Committee staff analysis of the bill.

Starting Jan. 1, 2009, each New Jersey worker will pay $33 per year to a family leave insurance fund through payroll deductions, officials say.

Eligible workers can take paid family leave starting on July 1, 2009. The leave takers will get two-thirds of their usual pay, up to a maximum of $524 per week, officials say.

Workers will have to be off work for at least a week to collect the benefits, and employers can require that workers take up to 2 weeks of available sick pay or vacation pay before going on paid family leave.

Workers can take family leave in “increments” as well as in long blocks. The minimum increment will be 1 day, officials say.

Employers can choose to self-insure the paid family leave costs or get paid family leave insurance from a private insurer.

Employers will have no new, state-imposed legal obligation to take employees back once family leave time is over.

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

The New Jersey Department of Labor is predicting that about 38,000 individuals, or 1% of all New Jersey workers, will collect paid leave benefits each year.

Members of the New Jersey Assembly voted 46-30 to approve the bill, and members of the state Senate approved the bill by a 21-15 vote.

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

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

“We are astonished that the governor and the Legislature would impose a paid leave mandate on businesses that are already struggling to survive a recession,” Kirschner says in a statement. “Private-sector job growth came to a near standstill in 2007, and the state has since lost 10,500 private-sector jobs in the first quarter of 2008.”

The NJ Time To Care Coalition, Trenton, N.J., a coalition of labor groups, community groups and other groups, has welcomed the signing of the paid leave bill.

“Many states will be following New Jersey’s example, and that will make the U.S. a stronger nation,” the coalition says in a statement of its own.