House DFL prioritizing paid family and medical leave

(KSTP) – With a projected $7.7 billion budget surplus, Democrats and Republicans say there’s an opportunity to make fundamental changes to Minnesota policies that might not be possible again for a generation.

Republicans generally eye tax cuts and tax reform, while Democrats generally want to strengthen social safety net programs. One of the top priorities of the House DFL is a state-mandated paid family and medical leave program.

“The COVID pandemic has exposed the inadequate and inconsistent safety net available for families,” said Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights.

She says many families get put in no-win situations when there’s a serious illness in the family or a woman needs time off after a pregnancy.

“They must choose between either recovering their health or keeping their job, while some are being forced to choose whether they’ll care for a loved one or secure their next paycheck,” Richardson said. “These are impossible choices, but it’s the reality for many Minnesotan families.”

Under a bill heard in the House Workforce Committee on Monday, Minnesota workers could get up to 12 weeks off with up to 90% pay, subject to a maximum of $1,144 per week. Workers could use the leave to care for a family member with a serious illness or if the worker is ill or needs time off after a pregnancy.

One woman who cares for her 89-year old mother while juggling her own small business and another job says a paid family leave program would help her family get by.

“A paid family leave program would help me fill in the gaps, allowing me to take the time I need to care for my mother without losing the income my family needs and keep me in the workforce,” Janet Lenius told the committee during an online hearing Monday.

While everyone seems to agree on the benefits of paid family leave, Republicans and business owners say another state mandate on businesses already struggling with supply chain issues, inflation and worker shortages would be one more challenge to overcome.

“It’s likely this mandate will cost a lot more than we think in terms of program expenses, worker replacement and small business competitiveness,” said John Reynolds of the National Federation of Independent Business. “One-size-fits-all mandates don’t work on Main Street. Small business arrangements are unique. Our members make every effort to accommodate as they need to in a competitive job market.”

No vote was taken on the bill today, but it will be considered for inclusion in a larger budget bill this session.