FILE - PA Dan Laughlin 1-28-2020

Pennsylvania state Sen. Dan Laughlin speaks Jan. 28, 2020, about his family leave legislation during a hearing of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee.

A Pennsylvania Senate committee heard its first testimony on a bill that would establish a paid family and medical leave program for workers by assessing a new tax on income.

Under Senate Bill 580, dubbed “The Family Care Act” and sponsored by state Sens. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, and Maria Collett, D-Lower Gwynedd Township, employees at any business established in Pennsylvania would contribute 0.588 of a percent of their income to establish the program.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage of all Pennsylvania workers is $50,030. A person making that amount would contribute about $294 annually to ensure they have paid annual leave for up to 20 weeks if they themselves are dealing with a serious health issue, including pregnancy, or are welcoming the addition of a child from birth, adoption or foster placement.

Those caring for ailing family members would qualify for paid leave of up to 12 weeks, according to the bill. State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela, the chairwoman of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, said that as of 2018, only 17 percent of all workers had access to paid extended leave.

Bartolotta said states like California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington have similar programs in place, and Massachusetts is considering establishing a paid leave program.

Currently, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers to take leave of up to 12 weeks, but that leave is unpaid.

In Tuesday’s hearing, Collett said that the bill acknowledges that when a health crisis arises, it’s a family member or members who tend to an ailing loved one.

“Too many people must make the impossible choice between time to bond with a new family member or care for themselves or a sick loved one and losing their job and economic security,” she said.

In written testimony, Matthew White, the owner of an independent game publisher in Erie, said that as a small-business owner, he can’t afford to offer a paid leave program for his workers. He said that his wife, a teacher, had saved up enough paid leave time to take six weeks after giving birth to their first child over a year ago. They’re expecting another child later this year.

“Fortunately, she had an easy pregnancy and labor” the first time, White wrote. “I worry about what would have happened had there been any complications and wonder what will happen with the birth of our second child.”

Alex Halper, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, told lawmakers the business community has some concerns with the bill. For example, FMLA exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees within 75 miles of the workplace. However, the Pennsylvania proposal offers no such exemption.

In addition, the business community wants to ensure there are no loopholes that would allow workers to take both FMLA and the state’s paid leave program separately. Also, FMLA can be taken in increments as small as an hour during the workday, Halper said, and he said that an additional state program wouldpresent challenges to human resources departments within Pennsylvania businesses.

“These are all important factors to consider when looking at adding an additional leave entitlement program on all Pennsylvania employers,” Halper told senators.