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Minnesota workers would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of extended paid leave after giving birth or if they need to care for a sick family member under a House bill passed Thursday night.

Business groups and Republicans raised concerns about the proposal's cost and impact on small businesses, and the measure appears unlikely to become law this session. Companion legislation in the Republican-led Senate has failed to progress. But advocates showed up at the State Capitol to demand action on the measure, saying the spread of coronavirus has crystallized the importance of allowing workers to take time off when they need it. The measure passed 70-59.

"We need to make sure people can stay home from work and school when they're sick without worrying about having to pay the rent or put food on the table," said Dr. Hannah Lichtsinn, who spoke at a news conference while holding her 6-year-old daughter on her hip.

Workers currently can get 12 weeks off under federal law without losing their jobs, but that time is unpaid. This paid family and medical leave bill would allow someone to receive a percentage of their wages while taking time off for a variety of reasons, including giving birth, adopting a child or having to care for a sick family member. A number of states have passed similar legislation.

Both employers and employees would pay into a fund to cover the benefits and administrative costs of the program. A House fiscal note says roughly $1.3 billion would be collected during 2022 and 2023. About 300 employees are needed to build the system, and it would take 3 ½ years to get it started, said bill sponsor Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses urged lawmakers to oppose the bill, calling the numbers "eye-popping."

"We are especially opposed to the new tax created in the bill that will be levied on every business and most workers and have very credible concerns that the tax will grow significantly over time," the federation wrote to legislators.

Employers already need to offer competitive benefit packages to retain staff with the worker shortage, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, recently said of the idea, adding, "I think the market is going to take care of itself anyway."

President Donald Trump signed a bill in December granting 12 weeks of paid leave for federal employees. Gazelka said Trump's attention to the topic is important, but passing the House's bill would have a different impact.

"You have a huge organization, the federal government, and that's different from small business," said Gazelka, who is concerned that small businesses would not be able to survive if they had to give workers 12 weeks of leave.

Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044