Senators Propose Compromise To Advance Family-Leave Legislation

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Hoping to break a deadlock on a bill granting workers unpaid leave to care for infants or ill family members, three senators last week offered a compromise plan aimed at either avoiding a Presidential veto or drawing enough votes to override one.

The move increased the likelihood that the Senate will take up the measure in the next two weeks.

The revisions were announced last week by Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, who has been pressing for a family-leave law since 1986; Wendell H. Ford, Democrat of Kentucky; and Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, who previously had opposed the legislation.

Senator Bond, who is working to bolster G.O.P. support for the revised bill, changed course because "he feels that with some reasonable changes, this legislation can go a long way toward reinforcing the family structure," said David Ayers, a spokesman.

The compromise measure would still require employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for the birth or adoption of a child or the serious illness of the employee or an immediate family member. And, like earlier versions of the bill, it would exempt firms with fewer than 50 employees, which account for 95 percent of all employers.

But the compromise plan would also allow employers to exempt "key employees" defined as the highest paid 10 percent of their workforce-and toughen eligibility rules for part-time workers. To qualify for leave, employees would have to work at least 1,250 hours a year, or 25 hours a week. The earlier bill had required 1,000 hours a year or 19 hours a week.

President Bush, who vetoed a family-leave bill last year, has consistently rejected the concept of federally mandated leave. Gary Foster, a spokesman for Mr. Bush, said last week that the revisions would not sol%en his stance "against federally mandated policies."

"Mandates limit choices and reduce opportunities for employers and employees," said Mary Tavenner, senior director of government relations for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, which leads a coalition of business groups opposed to the legislation.

Judith L. Lichtman, president of the Women's Legal Defense Fund, which is leading a coalition for the bill, said in a statement last week that she was "disappointed that a further compromise was necessary ."

But, Ms. Lichtman said, the substitute is a "breakthrough" that could "win enough support across the political spectrum to withstand a Bush veto" while still retaining the bill's fundamental principles.

Vol. 11, Issue 04, Page 21

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