By Charles Wowkanech
On Tuesday, voters from across New Jersey will select candidates to fill all 120 seats of the Legislature. When the winners begin their terms in January, they will be confronted with issues that voters have placed their trust in them to solve.
These issues include the continued need for property-tax reform, the lack of affordable health care, the reality that many of our roads and bridges are in disrepair, and the court-order commitment to provide quality education to our state's youngest residents.
However, before the new Legislature convenes, the Assembly and Senate are expected to have several weeks in a "lame duck" session to resolve several issues they have been debating for much of the last two years. Of all the unfinished initiatives that are worthy of completion during this time, none is more important to the working families of New Jersey than passage of paid family leave.
We are the only industrialized nation that doesn't have this program and that fails to recognize the importance of allowing parents to spend the precious first weeks with their newborns, or the opportunity to care for an ailing loved one, without the fear of losing the roofs over their heads.
In 2006, 78 percent of respondents to a Rutgers University poll said they favored extending unpaid-leave laws to provide paid family leave. Workers polled from across the state overwhelmingly declared that they were willing to contribute an average of $1 a week from their paycheck in exchange for this invaluable benefit.
Gov. Corzine, Senate President Richard Codey (D., Essex), and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D., Camden) have voiced their support for this legislation. And the New Jersey Partnership for Working Families - composed of more than 60 labor, religious, minority, academic and community organizations - is securing the support of additional legislators every day. Making New Jersey only the third state - with California and Washington - to establish paid family leave seems more realistic than ever.
While many voters have already turned their attention to the high-stakes game of national politics, and are already focusing on the 2008 race for the White House, New Jersey's legislative candidates should consider that their constituents want this program and want their elected representatives to deliver it. I urge the legislators to act on this important pro-family policy this year.