LOS ANGELES — California became the first state in the country to enact a comprehensive paid family leave program for workers under a bill signed Monday by Gov. Gray Davis.
Supporters hoped the bill would serve as a nationwide model, while business groups denounced it as too costly for employers.
“I don’t want Californians to choose between being good parents and good employees,” Davis said during a signing ceremony at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Mattel Children’s Hospital.
The new law allows workers to take six weeks off to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child or ill family member. Under the plan, employees will be eligible to receive 55 percent of their wages during their absence, up to a maximum payment of $728 a week.
The paid-leave law is the latest of several groundbreaking social and environmental laws passed in California this year.
Earlier, California became the first state to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. On Sunday, Davis signed a bill to allow stem cell research in the state, hoping it will attract scientists who someday might be able to use the research to cure chronic diseases. Last year, President Bush restricted federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research to a select number of existing cell lines, but critics say many of those stem cells are in poor condition and are useless for research.
Under the state’s new paid-leave program, workers would be allowed to start taking leaves as of July 1, 2004.
The program would be funded entirely by employee payroll deductions, averaging about $27 a year and ranging up to $70 a year for those earning more than $72,000 annually. About 13 million of California’s 16 million workers would be eligible, exempting state and local government employees who contribute to a different plan.
The bill does not provide protection for all workers. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to hold a job for a worker who takes paid family leave, according to the AFL-CIO, which helped write the bill.