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Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Silversmith Susan O'Brien, of Weedsport, is featured on the cover of the winter 2018 edition of Belle Armoire Jewelry magazine. O'Brien is pictured with her jewelry at the Skaneateles Artisans gallery.

State's family leave program launches

Workers in New York now can take time off to care for a newborn child or sick parent and continue to receive a paycheck.

The state's paid family leave program launched Jan. 1. This year, employees may take up to eight weeks of paid leave and will receive 50 percent of their average weekly wages while out of work.

The program will be funded by employee payroll deductions. For 2018, the deduction will be 0.126 percent of weekly wages. For example, if your gross weekly pay is $1,000, $1.26 will be deducted from your paycheck.

Full-time employees will be eligible for paid family leave if they work at least 20 hours a week for 26 consecutive weeks. Part-time employees who work less than 20 hours a week are eligible for paid leave after 175 work days.

Most employees are required to participate in the paid family leave program unless they obtain a waiver. Workers can obtain a waiver if they don't expect to meet the eligibility guidelines.

Workers will be able to use paid leave to care for a newborn, adopted or fostered child, care for a family member with a serious illness or assist when a family member who serves in the military is deployed.

To take time off for these purposes, you must notify your employer at least 30 days before your leave begins. If it's an emergency situation, employees are asked to notify their employers as soon as possible.

New York is the fourth state to offer paid family leave. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed the 12-week program in 2016, touted the implementation of the benefit at rallies Sunday on Long Island and in New York City.

"When you look back, what are the moments that matter? When the child is born? People get married? Who's there for you when you're sick? Do you get quality time to spend when someone is passing and they need peace and they need relaxation? That's what life is really all about, and middle-class working families have been denied that," Cuomo said.

He added, "Paid family leave says eight weeks, it goes up to 12 weeks and you get paid for it. And that's what goes into effect tomorrow. And that's what you should feel good about."

The new program has its share of supporters and detractors. The New York Paid Leave Coalition, which supported the adoption of the benefit for workers, lauded the state for having the "nation's strongest, most progressive and most comprehensive paid family leave policy."

"Starting January 1, New Yorkers will no longer have to choose between bonding with a new child or caring for a seriously ill family member and being able to pay their bills," said Donna Dolan, executive director of the New York Paid Leave Coalition.

Dolan noted that the coalition's next step is to educate the public about the program. The state Workers' Compensation Board, which is administering the program, conducted outreach prior to the Jan. 1 launch. This outreach included a website,, which the board said has drawn more than 1.3 million unique visitors since its inception. A paid family leave helpline, (844) 337-6303, was launched and has received more than 27,000 calls, according to the board.

Social media has been part of the board's campaign. The content has reached more than 1.7 million on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

While the state aims to educate New Yorkers about the program, business groups have criticized the paid family leave benefit and complained about how it will impact employers, especially small businesses.

Frank Kerbein, director of the Business Council of New York State's Center for Human Resources, believes small businesses will face challenges when attempting to comply with the new law.

"We were told repeatedly that there's no additional cost to employers for this," he said. "However, the administrative burden of paid family leave is immense."

The burden, according to Kerbein, includes meeting the employee notification requirements and identifying employees who are eligible for paid leave. Many employers distributed letters to workers explaining the program ahead of the Jan. 1 launch.

Another challenge Kerbein highlighted is the ability for employees to take paid leave intermittently. As an example, he said a new father under the existing 8-week paid leave program could take every Friday off for 40 weeks or every Monday and Friday off for 20 weeks.

He also recognized the private employers that already offer some sort of paid leave benefit.

"We're not against giving our employees time off to care or bond with children or care for sick family members," he said. "It's the inflexibility and the administrative burden that it puts on employers that compounds that problem. Lots of members do great work providing time off. It's the one-size-fits-all hammer on this nail that's the problem."

Despite concerns from business groups, the paid leave program is moving forward. For the first year, employees may take up to eight weeks. That will expand to 10 weeks in 2019 and 2020 before increasing to 12 weeks in 2021.

Once it is fully phased in, employees who take paid leave will receive 67 percent of their average weekly wages.

"Our strongest-in-the-nation paid family leave policy will ensure that no one has to choose between losing a job and missing the birth of a child or being able to spend time with a loved one in their final days," Cuomo said. ​

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First-time parents welcome Cayuga County's first baby of 2018

AUBURN — Two first-time parents welcomed their son and Cayuga County's first baby of the new year Monday evening at Auburn Community Hospital. 

Cayden Lee, weighing 9 pounds, .5 ounces and measuring 22 inches long, was born at 6:53 p.m. on New Year's Day to mother Shunlan Yuan and father Changkook Lee of Auburn. 

Lee said he and his wife were not expecting to have a New Year's baby because Cayden's due date was supposed to be Dec. 21. Although Cayden was nearly two weeks late, Lee said the labor and delivery went fine. 

"(We're) really happy," Lee said with a big smile when asked how he felt having the first baby of the new year. 

The couple has been married for three years, Lee said Tuesday afternoon in the maternity ward of Auburn Community Hospital. Yuan, 28, is from China and Lee, 33, is from Korea. Lee said they both came to the United States about seven years ago.  

Lee said the couple decided on the name Cayden after reading lists of most popular baby names. He said Yuan really liked the name.  

With the help of a translator app on his phone, Lee said the couple is "extremely excited" to welcome their first child, calling his son "lovable," "adorable" and "endearing."  

Yuan said she was "happy" to be a mom for the first time and was feeling well less than 24 hours after giving birth. Though she spoke little English, her eyes lit up and she laughed as she held her newborn son in her arms. 

Gallery: First baby born in Cayuga County in 2018

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Cayden Lee, born to Shunlan Yuan and Changkook Lee, left, of Auburn, is the first baby born in Cayuga County in 2018.

Fire at Cayuga Centers residence in Auburn under investigation

AUBURN — The Auburn Fire Department is investigating a bathroom closet fire at a Cayuga Centers residence on 202 Franklin St. Monday night. It is the second fire at that home in less than a month.

Assistant Fire Chief Mark Fritz said there were no injuries, but four staff members and five youth residents had to be relocated to the organization's main campus on Hamilton Avenue due to extreme weather conditions. The building was deemed uninhabitable last night, but Fritz said repairs were underway Tuesday.

The fire was called in at 6:17 p.m. Monday. Fritz said it was contained to the first-floor bathroom.

"It is currently under investigation because normally fires don't start in closets in bathrooms," he said. 

Auburn firefighters put out a fire in the same residence on Dec. 5. That one sparked in the upstairs office of the building, but did not require residents to relocate. That fire's cause, too, was under investigation.

Cayuga Centers is a service provider for families and children in New York, Florida and Delaware, focusing on residential service, foster care, evidence-based programs and help for people with disabilities. 

Cuomo unveils plan to combat sexual harassment in NY state government

As members of Congress seek to address the scourge of sexual harassment at the federal level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to take action this year to combat the problem in New York.

On the eve of his State of the State address, Cuomo released his plan to crack down on sexual harassment. He wants to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to settle sexual harassment cases involving state officials, adopt a uniform sexual harassment code for state and local government and ban confidentiality agreements to settle harassment cases unless it's the victim's preference.

Outside of government, Cuomo proposes private firms that conduct business with the state to release sexual assault and harassment statistics. And the governor wants to void forced arbitration clauses in contracts that prevent further legal action against harassers.

Cuomo's 18th State of the State proposal is in response to the large number of sexual harassment allegations levied against powerful individuals, mostly men. Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, prominent political reporter Mark Halperin, outgoing U.S. Sen. Al Franken and retired football players who now work at the NFL Network are among those accused of sexual misconduct.

"2017 brought a long overdue reckoning where the secret and pervasive poison of workplace sexual harassment was exposed by brave women and men who said this ends now," Cuomo said. "Our challenge in government is to turn society's revulsion into reform, and we in New York must seize the moment and lead the way."

The governor's proposal mirrors similar legislative efforts at the federal level. Two members of Congress from New York, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, have backed legislation to end forced arbitration of sexual harassment cases.

Another bill seeks to end the use of taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment allegations against members of Congress. It was revealed at the end of 2017 that hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been paid out to accusers to settle sexual harassment cases.

New York state government hasn't been immune from sexual harassment. The late Assemblyman Vito Lopez was accused by women staffers of sexual harassment. Taxpayer dollars were used to settle the cases.

The Cuomo administration has come under fire after allegations against Sam Hoyt, a former assemblyman who was employed by Empire State Development, the state's chief economic development agency.

The woman, who Hoyt helped get a state job, accused him of sexually harassing her over a one-year period. She has filed a lawsuit in federal court. Hoyt resigned in the fall.

There are already certain measures in place to address sexual harassment in state government. The state Assembly and Senate require lawmakers and staff to complete biennial workplace harassment training. But Cuomo's plan would go further.

"There must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, and we can and will end the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled harassment for far too long," he said.

Cuomo will release his 2018 agenda during the State of the State address Wednesday in Albany. The speech will mark the beginning of the state legislative session.