Paid leave for state employees pushed


Sen. Bryan Townsend with his wife Lilianna and son Logan during the State of Delaware Paid Leave Announcement press conference in Gov. John Carney’s office at Legislative Hall on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — More than 80 people crowded into Gov. John Carney’s office Tuesday in support of an initiative that would provide three months of paid family leave for state government employees.

The proposal was introduced in April but floundered because of the $2.5 million price tag. With the state government now on firmer financial ground according to revenue projections, supporters are renewing a push for the bill.

The measure would offer 12 weeks of paid leave upon the birth of a child or adoption of a child younger than 7. The time off would expire if not used within a year of the birth or adoption.

Only employees who have been with the state for at least a year would be eligible.

“Many major Delaware employers like JPMorgan Chase already offer paid leave, and as the state’s largest employer, it’s time for the state of Delaware to lead on leave — hashtag,” said main sponsor Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Bellefonte. “Research shows that paid leave is an essential support system that not only helps the quality of life improve for parents but also leads to healthier babies.”

The news conference, which included several state government employees and their young children, coincided with the first legislative day of 2018. The bill appears to be a priority for many and could be one of the first measures signed into law this year.

The federal Family Medical Leave Act gives individuals up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a child, family member or themselves, but the United States does not require workers be offered paid leave.

Delaware would be the fifth state with some form of paid leave.

The bill is similar to one filed in 2015. That one made it out of a House committee but went no further.

“Sometimes you have to put a bill out there in order for it to crawl, and then walk, but now I finally feel like we’re running to the finish line,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, said.

The measure, Rep. Heffernan said, would allow state government employees to no longer have “to choose between their careers and their families.”

Gov. John Carney during the State of Delaware Paid Leave Announcement press conference at Legislative Hall on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Lori Sebastian agrees.

When her daughter, Cora, was born, Ms. Sebastian, a third-grade teacher in the Appoquinimink School District, was able to use the nine weeks of sick leave she had accumulated. However, when that expired, she had to return to her job.

She is delaying having a second child with the hope “something will change in the government,” Ms. Sebastian said.

With the bill awaiting a hearing in the House Administration Committee that something could happen soon.

“It’s worth every penny we could possibly spend,” said Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington.


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