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Paid-leave proposals gain steam

A Massachusetts bill would give employees 12 weeks off to care for family.

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From same-sex marriage to universal healthcare coverage, Massachusetts has rarely shied away from blazing a trail of progressive reform. Now the state is considering another landmark proposal that would give workers here the nation's most generous paid leave policy.

The bill, which would pay workers their full salary (up to $750 a week) for up to 12 weeks to care for newborns or ill family members, comes just weeks after Republican Gov. Mitt Romney signed legislation that extends health insurance to nearly every state resident.

But the proposal is no liberal anomaly: Twenty-six other states considered some form of paid leave in their 2005 legislative sessions. California's 2004 program is currently the nation's most comprehensive.

Experts say the issue is gaining traction because it attempts to ease the difficulty many Americans face trying to balance work and family. A Harvard University report published in 2004 showed that of 168 countries studied, the United States is one of just five that don't offer some form of paid leave to women in connection with childbirth.

Observers say the bill in Massachusetts could unite conservatives and liberals around the issue of family values.

"Both liberals and conservatives recognize the reality of the situation," says Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "But they have to make it seem like it is reflecting a new reality, without making it seem like they've become France."

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