Alyshia Jackson bent to wring out her sopping mop and then with broad strokes, swooshed it across the concrete floor of a St. Paul apartment building lobby.
It's the sort of movement that caused complications in the weeks after her gallbladder removal surgery in September, forcing her to take more time off work to heal. The small-business owner and single mother is still catching up on credit card debt she accumulated.
"I did not have any type of support," Jackson said. "Do I shut my doors and take care of my health or do I continue to show up and sabotage my recovery?"
She is among the Minnesotans calling for a state paid family and medical leave program. With Democrats stepping into full control of state government and listing paid leave as a top priority, Minnesota appears likely to join 11 other states with programs intended to ensure workers can care for themselves or their families without triggering a financial tailspin.
Employees could qualify for up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member, such as a newborn or sick parent, as well as 12 weeks of medical leave if they get sick, under the measure lawmakers are considering.
"It will happen this year. It will be in the governor's budget," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said during a news conference last week to highlight the bill.
DFL legislators and Gov. Tim Walz want to use a portion of the state's $17.6 billion estimated budget surplus to jump-start the program, Hortman said. Bill sponsors said they don't have an exact figure for the startup cost, but past estimates have been greater than $1 billion.
After an initial infusion of surplus cash, the bill states the program would be sustained by a 0.6% premium on wages that would be funneled into a family and medical benefit insurance account.
Employees and employers would contribute to the program, legislators said. Past cost estimates have suggested a worker earning $50,000 annually would contribute roughly $3 a week and the employer would also spend about $3 a week, said bill sponsor Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights.
Employers could opt out and continue offering private plans for paid family or medical leave, or both, under the bill. They would need to apply for state approval to offer the substitute plan, which would have to include at least the same benefits, protections and rights as the public program. Employers could face fees if they don't meet program requirements.
"The way that this works is really a leveling of the playing field," Richardson said, allowing small businesses to compete with those that can offer such programs and pooling the financial risk statewide through the insurance program. She said the goal is to "ensure that everyone can get access to this no matter what they look like, what their ZIP code is or who they work for."
Some business owners, like Jackson, support the change. At her small business, 1st Class Cleaning Services, an employee needed two weeks off last spring when a relative died. The worker knew Jackson was paying her out of pocket during that time. Later, she left for another company.
"She said, 'I love working for you, but I don't want to feel bad when I have sick time,'" Jackson said. "Something has to give. ... If I want reliable people, I have to be able to offer them services where they feel safe and they feel supported."
But many business leaders disagree with the plan.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce opposes the mandated approach, said Lauryn Schothorst, the organization's workplace management policy director. She said a significant number of businesses already offer some sort of paid leave.
"They are doing so in a way that works for their workforce, their operations," Schothorst said. "It doesn't come with the same sort of legal compliance risks and liabilities, the paperwork, the reporting, all those burdens that get added on when you are talking about complying with a law."
The current system allows businesses to tailor benefits to their workforce's needs, potentially focusing more on tuition reimbursement or health care costs rather than paid leave, she said.
Schothorst also raised concerns about the possibility that someone could qualify for a total of up to 24 weeks of leave in a year.
Only a small percentage of workers end up taking both medical and family leave in a year, said Debra Fitzpatrick with the Children's Defense Fund, which has been pushing for the change. A 2019 report she worked on at the University of Minnesota estimated 13.4% of Minnesota workers take family or medical leave a year, and that would increase to 15% with a paid leave program.
The program is not intended for people who need a few sick days, Fitzpatrick said. It's for those who have to take seven days or more off work in situations that can have major economic consequences for a family, she said.
Workers would need a health care provider to verify that they, or the person they are caring for, has a serious health care condition. A newly created Family and Medical Benefit Insurance Division, under the state's Department of Employment and Economic Development, would administer the program.
The 12 weeks of family leave could be used for more than just caring for a sick loved one. It could be used for "bonding" time after a child's birth, adoption or foster placement with a family. Or someone could take "safety leave" if they or their family member experienced domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking.
How much money workers receive while on leave would vary based on their wages, with lower earners receiving around 90% of their income and higher earners around 60%, said Sen. Alice Mann, DFL-Edina.
Lower-income Minnesotans disproportionately lack paid leave and have to work when they are sick, Hortman said.
"This is also an issue of privilege," she said. "We have the ability to fix that, and we will."