Senate Committee Considers Axing Family Leave Law

Jan 29, 2013

Correction: An earlier version of the story stated that the Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to continue paying a portion of workers' wages. The story has been corrected to say that the intent of the state law was to provide compensation for workers, however, there has not been a set plan created to pay for it.

A state Senate committee is looking to pull the plug on a state law that passed in 2007 but never took effect. Lawmakers have delayed implementing the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act because the state hasn’t found a way to pay for it. At a recent public hearing people urged lawmakers to keep the law on the books.

Federal law already grants up to 12 weeks of time off for working new parents or other caregivers, however the leave is generally unpaid. The intent of the state law was to provide compensation for workers, however, there has not been a set plan created to pay for it.

Mark Barfield spent the first six months of his newborn’s life in the hospital. His daughter was born with a congenital heart defect and other medical problems. Barfield told the Senate committee he was fortunate. During that time he was able to be in the hospital with his daughter and still receive pay and benefits.

“I thought it was important as a parent to come up here and voice my concerns and how important it is for other families to be able to go and be with their children or their family members in the hospital, and to be able to make ends meet in such a difficult time,” he said.

Twice, the Legislature delayed implementing the Family Leave Act. It’s scheduled to take effect in 2015. But Sen. John Braun said it’s time to ax it. “We should stop fooling around with something we don’t ever plan to fully fund; we should take it off the books and then move on to things we can that will benefit the people.”

If the bill passes, the federal family leave law would still be in place. But some lawmakers are balking at the proposed repeal. 

Sen. Karen Keiser sponsored the original bill in 2007. She’s introducing a counter proposal that would actually expand the state’s Family Leave Act. Her plan would require both employers and employees to contribute to a pool to pay for the leave. 

A companion bill is scheduled to be introduced in the House.