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Debate over the issue of paid parental leave heated up on Capitol Hill June 4, 2009, when the House of Representatives voted to approve legislation (H.R. 626) that would provide employees of the federal government with four weeks of paid parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child.
The legislation would offer federal employees the paid leave benefit and allow them to use accrued sick or vacation leave in lieu of the 12 weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed to public- and private-sector employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act. A similar measure passed the House in June 2008 but stalled in the Senate after President George W. Bush threatened to veto the measure.
The Obama administration, however, voiced support for the measure in a White House policy statement released on June 3. “The administration supports the goal of H.R. 626 and is currently reviewing the existing federal leave policies to determine the extent of their gaps and limitations,” the statement reads.
However, the White House statement did not indicate if President Obama would sign the bill as passed by the House. Proponents of the bill say that the law would give federal workers the flexibility and support they need to raise their families and would help to make the federal government an employer of choice.
“As more families are relying on just one paycheck in these times, we can’t afford not to help them in this way. The federal government should join many employers in the private sector—including 75 of the Fortune 100—by enacting workplace policies that invest in employees and their children,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., a chief sponsor of the bill, in a written statement. “In passing this bill and sending it to the Senate, the House is helping to make ‘family-friendly policies’ the law of the land.”
Opponents of the measure said passage of the bill come at a bad time as Congress and the administration struggle to find ways to cut costs and promote an economic recovery.
“In its current form, there is no way Congress can justify granting a costly benefit to government workers at the expense of a nation that is struggling to survive the effects of a deep recession resulting in the loss of more than 2 million jobs since January,” said Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in a written statement. “There is no way for Congress to tell nearly 14 million unemployed Americans that 2.7 million gainfully employed federal workers will receive additional benefits at a projected cost close to $1 billion.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the new parental leave would cost the federal government approximately $932 million over the next five years. Issa tried to dilute the bill by adding several amendments that would have forced federal employees to use all their accrued paid vacation and sick leave before they could use the paid parental leave. The House did not approve the changes proposed by Issa.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., introduced the Senate version of the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act (S. 354) in March 2009. The Senate bill has 16 co-sponsors; however no Republican senators had agreed to support the legislation. It remained unclear when the Senate will begin debate on the proposal.
While H.R. 626 applies only to federal employees, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate introduced the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 2460, S. 1152) during May 2009. The Healthy Families Act would require private businesses to provide employees seven days of paid sick leave every year.
Bill Leonard is senior writer forSHRM Online.
Bill Would Mandate Paid Sick Leave, HR News, May 29, 2009
SHRM Seeks to Change Debate on Paid-Leave Policies, HR News, May 11, 2009
House Approves Paid Leave Bill for Federal Workers, HR News, June 26, 2008
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