As the Memorial Day holiday draws near, nearly half of the nation's state legislative sessions have come to a close. Yet, hot issues such as employee leave, health care and immigration are still being debated in some states. Here is a snapshot of states and issues to watch.
Family and Military Leave Insurance
Washington state enacted legislation ( Senate Bill 5659) on May 8, 2007 establishing a family and medical leave insurance program within the State Department of Commerce and Labor. The program will allow workers who otherwise are unable to take leave to do without fear of losing their job. The law establishes guidelines for both employees and employers, and also prohibits discrimination against an employee for use of leave insurance benefits. The law takes effect on July 22, 2007. Although this new statute does not mandate paid leave, it sets a precedent for job protection and leave requirements.
Other states have passed or are considering leave provisions for spouses and family members of active-duty military personnel. Recently, Indiana and Nebraska approved House Bill 1092and Legislative Bill 497respectively, which provide up to 15 days of unpaid leave for family members of active-duty military and National Guard personnel who are deployed oversees. California and Wisconsinhave crafted similar military leave proposals for family members that range from 15 to 30 days of unpaid leave, and include job protections and reinstatement privileges. As the U.S. Department of Defense continues to deploy more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, other states are likely to consider similar proposals.
Health Care Reform
In keeping with the trend toward finding new ways to provide health care coverage for the most needy citizens, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R) signed into law legislation ( H.B. 1687) raising the cigarette tax by $.44 per pack to fund a new state health insurance program. Based on the state's estimates, this measure is expected to generate $206 million annually, which will help finance health care coverage for nearly 132,000 Indiana residents. The plan combines the use of high deductible plans and a form of health savings accounts called "Power" accounts, allowing participants to amass up to $1,100 per year (through a combination of personal tax-free contributions and state funds) to offset the cost of health care coverage. Comprehensive health care reform proposals are pending in other states, most notably in California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.
As reported previously in HR Issues Update, immigration reform continues to be a priority for many state governments. Colorado and Georgia enacted sweeping legislation in 2006, and other states have introduced similar legislation this year. Most recently, Oklahoma passed legislation ( House Bill 1804) requiring public employers who do business with the state to participate in the Federal "Basic Pilot" Program. The law becomes effective on November 1, 2007. Similar bills are pending in Rhode Island and Tennessee.
In contrast, the Illinois legislature is moving to pass legislation ( House Bill 1744) that would prohibit businesses from enrolling in the Federal "Basic Pilot" Program until the Department of Homeland Security databases are able to provide employers with responses within three days 99 percent of the time. The bill has strong support and is expected to pass.
NOTE: SHRM opposes legislation that would require employers to participate in the "Basic Pilot" because the program is unreliable and does not protect employers against penalties when prospective employees present stolen, fraudulent or counterfeit identification documents.
Weapons in the Workplace
Legislation is still pending in Texas that would require employers to allow employees to store weapons in a locked vehicle on private property. (Workplaces that have gated parking areas and continuous supervision by security personnel are not required to allow weapons on company property.) Two bills ( HB 220and HB 992) have been approved in committee and are awaiting votes by the full House and Senate. With the Texas legislature scheduled to adjourn by Memorial Day, proponents of this legislation are pushing hard to schedule a final vote. This year, SHRM members have been influential in helping to defeat similar legislation in Utah, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Montana, Mississippi, and Kentucky.