On the Trail: Taking the temperature of the legislature on paid parental leave

Mar 21, 2017
Originally published on March 21, 2017 5:11 am

With Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens issuing an executive order extending parental leave to some state employees, the question naturally arises: What’s next?

While important to the thousands of state employees it affects, the Republican governor’s executive order is not comprehensive. It provides paid time off for people who give birth or adopt a child, but only applies to “executive” state agencies run by gubernatorial appointees. It doesn’t affect or every state employee — or private sector workers .

To expand the policy beyond executive agencies, the legislature would have to act (or businesses or agencies, like the Missouri Department of Transportation, would have to offer paid parental leave voluntarily). According to the two Republican leaders of the General Assembly, Greitens’ order may move the legislative needle.

House Speaker Todd Richardson publicly endorsed expanding parental leave before the legislative session started. The Poplar Bluff Republican said in December he wanted to provide the benefit to state workers first before expanding into the private sector. Even though Democrats traditionally pushed the idea of paid parental leave, Republicans like Richardson embraced the policy as a way to attract younger workers to the state — and, in his view, make families less dependent on government social service programs.

“We’re going to work on some rules for the House to mirror the action that the governor took via executive order and we’ll work on that,” Richardson said. “As to whether there’s enough time in session left to get a piece of legislation to get across the finish line, I just don’t know at this point.”

He added: "I think it’s important for state to lead by example on this important policy, and that’s always where we were going to start.” 

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, also broached the possibility last week of providing paid leave to all state employees.

“We haven’t had any discussions just yet on a particular piece of legislation. But we’d like to make it fair. If there’s something out there, it should be fair for everybody,” Richard said. “We just want to make sure if there’s anything for employees in the state of Missouri, it’s fair. And it’s applied fair.”

It should be noted that Greitens’ executive order wasn’t universally well received within the legislature.

Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said in a Facebook message that it “appears to be in concert with the Karl Marx’s promotion of the conflict between the classes,” since taxpayers would have to “buckle up and work a little harder in order to generate enough tax revenue to cover the costs of parental and secondary leave.”

Whether Moon’s sentiments reflect a majority consensus remains to be seen. 

Beyond the state bubble

Lawmakers from both parties have filed legislation to provide paid parental leave for state and private sector employees. Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, says goodbye to colleagues on the last day of this year's legislative session.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, and state Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, have been working on paid leave legislation for more than a year. The bill, which Schupp said featured input from law students and businesses, would also cover private sector workers.

It also would allow for paid time off for more than just a birth or adoption of a child, as well as more broadly define family leave, including caring for a family member with a serious health condition or dealing with the aftermath of a military deployment.

Schupp’s bill would set up a statewide pool where employees would contribute one quarter of 1 percent of their annual salary. After a set period of time, if someone pays into the pool for 52 weeks, they’ll be able to get up to six weeks of paid leave.

“We know that particularly millennials, the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs, are looking for more than just a job. They’re looking for a lifestyle,” Schupp said. “This aligns absolutely with the kind of lifestyle that people are looking at to make sure that families are taken care of. After all, that’s one of the reasons they’re going to work — is to have enough money to take care of themselves and their families.”

Because the session is half over, Schupp isn’t sure a comprehensive paid leave bill will pass before May. But she said the idea is gaining momentum — and, in her opinion, inevitability.

“It’s not going to happen this year because these paid family medical leave bills have not really moved forward,” Schupp said. “But down the road, there is no question in my mind that we are going to determine that this benefit is what the people of Missouri want for themselves and for the people around them.”

Budget officials estimate Greitens’ executive order will cost about $1.1 million, according to Office of Administration spokeswoman Ryan Burns. She added that “departments should be able to manage [the cost] within their existing budgets.”

St. Louis Public Radio's Marshall Griffin contributed to this story.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

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