The bill authorizing paid leave insurance is approved by the Senate

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The Minnesota Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow insurers to offer paid family leave coverage to employers who want to extend coverage to their workers.

Legislation that allows for a voluntary option is combined with tax credits in a separate bill to be voted on this week. But it’s a narrower approach than a state-run family and medical leave scheme adopted earlier by DFL House, and the bill has drawn complaints that it falls short of the promise of a adequate coverage.

The Senate bill passed 37 to 29, with a DFLer and two independents joining all Republicans in favor.

Sen. Julia Coleman, sponsor of the bill, said she wanted to avoid a mandate while giving small employers a chance to follow a perk that big companies now routinely offer.

“It’s written broadly enough that each individual employer can work directly with their insurance carrier to create the perfect package for their business and the unique needs of their employees,” said Coleman, R-Waconia.

The policies would cover bonding time within the first 12 months of a birth or adoption and allow paid leave when it comes to the serious medical condition of a close relative. It would apply to the spouses, parents, grandparents and children of the person covered.

His bill would prevent the state from offering a competing insurance option. The first fonts would be available next January.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, warned many workers would be left behind.

“It’s just an open door for insurance companies to offer more insurance policies, more insurance options that small businesses simply can’t afford. That’s the problem we have,” she said. “So we are not solving the problem with this bill.”

Senate Democrats tried to expand the proposal with the state-administered system pushed by the House and DFL Governor Tim Walz, but their measure was ruled out of order. They said people who hadn’t opted into employer-sponsored plans before pregnancy wouldn’t get coverage.

“I’m looking for paid family and medical leave,” said Sen. Jennifer McEwen, DFL-Duluth. “It’s a payment system to play in my mind. It pays off. It’s a profit motive disguised as care.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said it was an insurance product that is not available today and avoids a cumbersome government program.

“Do you prefer to deal with a government-run program with no flexibility as if we are all the same? No, we have to let the Minnesotans choose,” Nelson said. “I don’t believe government is the be-all and end-all in all aspects of our lives.”

Nelson is sponsoring the Complementary Tax Bill which would provide tax credits of up to $3,000 per worker for companies with 50 or fewer employers who have paid family leave. This bill must be voted on Wednesday.

Passing the bills late in the legislative session could make it difficult to find a compromise before the May 23 adjournment.

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, did not rule out a potential deal. “It’s a great piece of legislation and I hope we can continue discussions on it,” he said.

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