Colorado Edition: National Popular Vote And Paid Family Leave
Today on a special episode of Colorado Edition: we've teamed up with 1A Across America for a series exploring election issues leading up to November. Today we look at two of the ballot questions that Colorado voters will have a say on in November. First – Proposition 113, the ballot measure that asks whether or not Colorado should be part of the national popular vote. Then we turn to Proposition 118, which asks voters whether or not Colorado should have a statewide paid family leave program.
- Scott Franz - KUNC’s state Capitol reporter
- Jennifer Hendricks - Professor of law at the University of Colorado Boulder
- Jennifer Greenfield - Associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work
These highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
National Popular Vote
Scott, can you explain what the national popular vote movement is, and why a certain number of states need to adopt it for it to go into effect?
Scott Franz: The compact is a group of states that think the president should be the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide, essentially the winner of the popular vote. And to try and accomplish that, states are joining this compact to try and award their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote.
So right now there are 15 states and the District of Columbia that have joined so far. Colorado was the latest, but because of this referendum, it’s now up to voters to decide whether to keep the state’s membership in it.
Remind us, how did this national popular vote question get on the November ballot? What happened?
Franz: Well, it’s on the November ballot because of how controversial the law was that state lawmakers passed to put us into the compact.
In fact, this is a very unique situation. Colorado residents have not initiated a referendum like this and challenged the decision by their lawmakers since 1932, and that’s when they were fired up about lawmakers putting a nickel tax on Oleo margarine.
So this is an issue that attracted a lot of statewide interest, and hundreds of thousands of residents signed a petition saying that they wanted a say in it, so that’s why it’s on the ballot now.
And just to clarify, this ballot measure, a "yes" vote is to stay in the national popular vote compact?
Franz: Exactly, yes. A "yes" vote essentially approves the decision that state lawmakers had already made to keep us in.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about how the November election might play out and whether President Trump will accept a peaceful transition of power if he doesn’t win, or how he might challenge the results. In 2016, the presidential election came down to the electoral college, which President Trump won – not the national popular vote, which he lost.
Professor Hendricks, how do you see the post-election period playing out this year? And how would being part of the National Popular Vote compact change that?
Jennifer Hendricks: Well, a couple of things. One key feature of the National Popular Vote compact is that it doesn’t go into effect until enough states have joined it that it can control the outcome of the electoral college, by having enough states that they add up to more than 270 electoral votes.
So regardless of how Colorado votes on whether to join the compact or not in this election, it will not be in effect for this election. Even with Colorado, it only has so far 196 electoral votes, so the compact will not be in effect.
If you compare to 2016, the difference and the question of how is this good for us because it might mean that we vote one way but our electoral votes go another way, that’s the reason why no state wants to do this on their own. A state could just say we believe in popular vote and so we’re going to give our votes to whoever wins the popular vote, but that’s pretty altruistic, right? What Colorado gets out of it, what each state, the idea is what they get out of it is that the other states in the agreement all commit ahead of time that we’ll all support whoever wins the national popular vote. So sometimes that will mean that some states give their electoral votes to someone the states didn’t vote for, but it’s in exchange for the other states agreeing doing the same.
So this is one issue that will not affect the current election, because it will not be in effect, but it’s motivated by the instances like 2016 where the outcome in the Electoral College was different from the popular vote.
Professor Hendricks, this measure doesn’t get rid of the Electoral College, which just seems like the easiest thing to do, but why not? How would this work differently?
Hendricks: So it might be the simplest thing to do, but it’s definitely not the easiest thing to do.
The Electoral College has been controversial for a long time because of the discrepancy between allocation of electoral votes and population, but you’d have to amend the Constitution to change it, and that’s pretty difficult. And the amendment process is structurally very similar to the Electoral College itself in that states get equal votes in the amendment process regardless of population again.
So I believe a proposal to amend the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College passed the House once, but that’s as far as it’s ever gotten, and it would be unlikely to get 38 states.
So the proponents of this proposal came up with it as an alternative based on the fact that the Constitution does give state legislatures control over how they choose their electors. So like in the very first presidential election, some of the state legislatures actually didn’t even hold elections, they just picked their electors themselves. Pretty quickly everyone went to holding elections, but they do have authority to decide how to spend the state’s electoral votes, and the idea here is that it would allow states who support a popular vote to do so, but in a way that again doesn’t just mean they sacrifice their vote, they get something in return from the other states.
Paid Medical and Family Leave
Scott, could you walk us through the basics of Proposition 118? What program would it create, and how would the state pay for it?
Franz: Of course. So it would create a new statewide paid leave program that would let workers take up to 12 weeks off to care for a newborn, care for a sick relative, recover from domestic violence. And to do that, almost every worker in the state would pay a premium along with their employer; it would be shared between the employer and their workers.
The big difference between the federal programs we have is this would be paid time off, and when someone is doing all of these things, they would still be able to collect a paycheck, up to 90% of their wages, or up to about $1,100 per week would be a maximum benefit.
Paid family leave is an initiative that lawmakers have been considering for some time. How did this get on the November ballot?
Franz: Well, lawmakers really struggled with this one — it was a big political battle for several years. Democrats at the Capitol were advancing plans year after year, and it was really concerns from the business community, and more recently Gov. Jared Polis, that kept this from becoming law.
And a lot of the concerns are about costs: the costs to businesses, whether it’s universal, whether it’s run by the state, so it ended up as a ballot initiative after lawmakers failed to really get on the same page about what kind of program they wanted, and the advocates of this were tired of the inaction at the Capitol, and gathered enough signatures to put this question to voters and the people who would be paying for it.
I can imagine voters hearing that word — taxes — and wondering what exactly that means. Jennifer Greenfield, you’ve researched potential economic impacts. Explain what that looks like, and what some of the variables are in determining how much this program will cost taxpayers.
Jennifer Greenfield: The way that the program is designed, it’s really a shared cost between workers and employers. Workers and employers would contribute at the start, less than half a percentage of their average weekly wages, so those would go into a fund that is managed by the state, and then workers could file claims if they have any of the approved reasons why they might need to take leave.
So that fund is really functioning like an insurance program, but it’s run by the state so it’s social insurance, and it would be fully funded by these premiums that are payed by the workers and the employers.
What about small businesses, with only a few skilled employees? Would a policy like this benefit large employers which have more flexibility when someone takes leave, and hurt small employers who don't have that? What impact would this change have on small businesses?
Greenfield: I think one of the things that I hear most often from the small business owners that I’ve spoken with, is that having a universal program like this that they can pay into, it’s actually a relatively small premium that they pay in, and then when their worker needs to take time off, whether they’re become injured, developed an illness, or a family member has, the employer basically saves their salary for the weeks or months that the worker is out, and can use that to compensate other workers for overtime, or to hire a temp worker or something like that.
And so it’s a benefit that’s actually very difficult for small business owners to provide on their own, when they have to fully self-fund that worker's time off while also covering their work. And so paying the small premium into this state-run fund actually helps those small businesses to be able to take care of workers who are sick, and to get the job done at work.
So what we see in the research in states that already have a program like this is that employers find that their productivity goes up among workers when they’re not on leave, their loyalty increases, and so they have fewer turnover costs because workers come back and they’re so grateful to have that time off and be able to come right back to work, so it actually ends up having a huge benefit, and business owners report being very happy with a program once it’s in place. So I think that we can anticipate that there would actually be some very positive outcomes in this if it is implemented.
Next week: We’ll discuss the question of whether or not Colorado should reintroduce grey wolves to the state. What questions do you have about reintroduction? Or wolves?
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KUNC's Colorado Edition is a news magazine taking an in-depth look at the issues and culture of Northern Colorado. It's available on our website, as well as on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can hear the show on KUNC's air, Monday through Thursday at 6:30 p.m., with a rebroadcast of the previous evening's show Tuesday through Friday at 8:30 a.m.
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