D.C. Council passes one of the nation’s most generous paid family leave bills

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Working parents in D.C. could look forward to new paid family leave laws. Photo by Getty Images

Working parents in D.C. could look forward to new paid family leave laws. Photo by Getty Images

In a 9-4 vote Tuesday afternoon, the D.C. City Council approved one of the most generous paid family leave plans in the country. Tuesday’s vote also rejected an 11th-hour proposed amendment to the bill that would change funding for the benefits.

Granted preliminary approval on Dec. 6, the council voted in favor of the Universal Paid-Leave Amendment Act, which gives eight weeks of leave to new parents, six for caring for a gravely ill member of the family, and two for personal sick leave.

With today’s vote, the paid leave program will be funded by a new business tax that would raise $250 million a year to cover costs.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has not said if she would veto the bill. If she does not veto the bill, it could become law without her signature, the Washington Post has noted.

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On Monday, Democrats Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) proposed new terms that kept the same paid leave times of the original bill, but changed how the benefits would be funded.

Instead of a public insurance plan footing the bill, the two council members proposed an amendment that the benefits be paid for by an individual-employer mandate, meaning employers will agree to pay for parental leave when employees need to access it. Additionally, tax credits for small businesses would help cover the cost of the benefits.

Evans and Cheh have said the revised bill would cost $40 million a year as opposed to the estimated $250 million in the original version, the Post reported.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wrote the original version of the bill, which Cheh voted for and Evans voted against earlier this month. Mendelson was critical of the new proposal, saying the cost plan doesn’t work without a new tax to cover the program’s financial burden.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose office would oversee the leave program, has fought the bill in the past, criticizing the millions of dollars it would take to set up the program. However, she told the Post on Monday that she would probably support the revised bill.

The D.C. Chamber of Commerce has always opposed the bill, proposed initially in 2015, saying D.C. business taxes would pay for workers in Maryland or Virginia. A former D.C. Council member wrote in the Post that more than 60 percent who would benefit from the legislation live outside the District.

Before the vote, several businesses and groups came out in support of the alternate legislation, as shown by a recent full-page ad in the Post.

Economist Christopher Ruhm told the NewsHour last year that businesses in California, which became the first state to enact a paid family leave law, reported either “positive or, at worst, neutral effects.”

[Watch Video]

The United States and Papua New Guinea are the only countries in the world that do not provide any paid time off for new mothers. Why haven’t maternity leave laws kept pace with the increase of working parents? Economics correspondent Paul Solman explores the debate on whether time off for new parents is also good for business.

Some small businesses also expressed their support for a family leave program, while a 2015 poll found that more than 80 percent of D.C. voters would want similar proposals.

Seven of the 13 council members were needed to vote in favor of the paid leave bill for it to become law.

The vote came after the presidential election, when President-elect Donald Trump became the first Republican candidate to put a focus on paid family leave and child-care assistance. During the campaign, Trump suggested a six-week paid leave for mothers, while his opponent Hillary Clinton called for 12 weeks of paid leave.

Besides Papua New Guinea, the U.S. lags behind every country in the world in terms of paid leave for child care. But the D.C. plan offers more time and wage reimbursement than any other plan in the U.S.

California was the first state to offer a paid family leave plan in 2004. New Jersey and Rhode Island soon followed, while New York’s plan begins in 2018.

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