Ga. House leaders back paid parental leave for 250,000 state workers

By: - March 4, 2020 8:06 am

Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican, makes the case for expanding paid parental leave to all state employees while surrounded by Republican leadership. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

A freshman lawmaker has proposed expanding paid parental leave to the state’s public employees as Republicans broaden their recent embrace of a policy change they had previously long resisted.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican, was announced at a Tuesday press conference featuring House leadership, including the chamber’s top two officials.

The bill, which was filed Tuesday, would provide three weeks of paid leave for any eligible state employee – regardless of gender or sexual orientation – after the birth of a child, have a child in foster care placed in their home or adopt.

If passed, the new policy would affect nearly 250,000 state workers, including K-12 teachers, university staffers and others who currently have no paid paternal leave and who sometimes return to work before they are ready.

“This legislation is going to directly impact the lives of so many constituents who are starting families in my district,” said Gaines, who represents the University of Georgia and who won back the Athens-based House seat from a Democrat in 2018.

House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, announced last summer that the employees of his chamber would have access to three weeks of paid paternal leave. The Senate now also offers the benefit.

Ralston, who stood next to Gaines Tuesday, also evoked President Donald Trump’s push to extend 12 weeks of paid leave to more than 2 million federal workers, which is largely seen as his daughter Ivanka Trump’s influence. Paid parental leave has long been a Democratic priority.

The proposal comes as the chamber’s Republicans brace for a contentious election year where Democrats are trying to wrest away control of the House. Democrats would have to flip 16 seats to pull that off.

As proposed, the bill would extend paid parental leave to state employees who have worked a combined 700 hours in a six-month period. When asked about the cost, Gaines said it was not expected to be significant. The change would take effect this July.

The House speaker told reporters that three weeks of paid leave mimics what some large corporate employers in Georgia offer their employees.

Today there is no state law that requires private business to offer paid paternal leave to their employees, and Ralston said he hopes the move might prompt small business owners to follow the state’s lead. He called it “a good pro-family policy” that “enhances the culture of life.”

“Obviously, our goal is not to dictate to the private sector what they should be doing,” Ralston said. “Because that’s not consistent, I think, with what any of us up here agree with, but hopefully they will draw inspiration from this.”

The announcement was quickly celebrated by some as a positive step.

Mindy Binderman, Executive Director of GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, said “family-friendly workplace policies” like parental leave help reduce infant mortality, improve newborn health and well-being and lower turnover costs for businesses.

“We believe Rep. Houston Gaines’ proposal would open a positive path forward for additional public-private solutions that ensure paid leave for all Georgians,” Binderman said in a statement.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.