Will lawmakers back a paid family leave bill?

January 31, 2019

As Minnesota lawmakers prepared to open committee debate today on a paid family and medical leave bill, an update to a 2016 report was drawing attention to specific needs in rural portions of the state.

Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy released the report outlining need for rural workers to have access to paid family leave amid shortages of child care and eldercare providers.

“At the same time, rural employers struggle to provide paid family leave because they’re often smaller in size and have less flexibility than larger employers in urban areas,” said Debra Fitzpatrick, co-director of the center and the author of the report.

The report, which builds on a larger 2016 study, points to an increased need for paid leave options in the state’s rural communities.

Fitzpatrick said the combination of labor shortages, an aging population and lack of child care tends to create stress for small businesses that cannot afford to pay employees when they need extended time off to care for a family member, whether an ill child or a parent needing added assistance.

Federal law allows approximately 60 percent of the workforce to take unpaid time off to care for themselves, a sick family member or new child, but many workers can’t afford the loss of pay, according to the report.

JaNaé Bates, communications director for ISAIAH, said that’s why the faith-based advocacy group has joined forces with the Children’s Defense Fund and the AFL-CIO to support a legislative proposal that would guarantee pay for people who take up to 12 weeks of family or medical leave.

The measure, which was scheduled to be reviewed in the House’s Labor Committee today, would create a new state-run insurance program, funded by a 0.31 percent payroll tax on both employers and employees, to cover the cost of partial wage reimbursements.

While House Democrats have made the bill one of its top priorities during the session, the Senate has not seen a similar measure introduced.

Opponents of the measure suggest the bill takes the wrong approach by requiring companies and employees to pay for the benefit. Some also question whether the proposed tax is enough to cover actual expenses that would occur.

Rochester DFLer Duane Sauke, who is listed as a co-author of the bill, said he hasn’t heard many local objections to the proposal, but said more discussion is likely as the measure moves forward in the Legislature.

“That is something I expect to come,” he said, noting constituent comments generally emerge as bills are reviewed.

He said he expects the bill may face opposition from some business owners who worry about potential impacts, but such concerns can be overstated

“We oftentimes aren’t able to manage that until we get our feet into it,” he said, noting he feels the proposal is a logical step to discuss.

Rep. Todd Lippert, another co-author of the bill, said he believes small businesses will embrace the effort because it would help them ensure their employees’ needs are met.

“As an employer, we want to do right by our employees,” said the Northfield DFLer, who is senior pastor of First United Church of Christ in Northfield.

He noted the bill faces more review before it will be considered on the House floor, if it makes it that far.

“I’m not sure where it will go next for sure,” he said, noting the Labor Committee is a policy review and a finance committee review will be required.

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