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Coalition once again calls for Minnesota to require paid leave

Minnesota Senate Republicans opposed to the bill said it increases taxes on employers for benefits they may already offer or that workers might not need.

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Minnesota state capitol
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Democrats and a coalition of labor groups and other organizations continue to call for lawmakers to pass paid family and medical leave legislation, saying the pandemic has only further emphasized the need for a state program.

Minnesotans for Paid Family & Medical Leave, along with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, bill sponsors and business owners, touted the legislation at a Monday news conference. Backers emphasized paid leave’s importance for women in the workforce, who are often primary caregivers in families.

“To retain the workforce we need paid family and medical leave, it should be a basic right and not a privilege. While you or I might have the luxury of taking this policy for granted, that right is not available for too many in our state,” said Gloria Perez, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. “Family medical leave is key to long-term success of women, parents and all human beings and it should not be optional.”

Bills introduced by Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers in the Senate and House would create a state-funded family and medical benefits insurance program in Minnesota. The program would offer up to 12 weeks of partially paid time off for pregnancy, serious health conditions, family care, leave when a family member is called for active military duty and safety leave for domestic abuse situations. It would be administered by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development and funded by a payroll tax similar to the unemployment insurance fund, with each Minnesotan contributing about $3 per week, Forum News Service previously reported. The amount of pay a beneficiary receives would be based on a sliding scale.

The House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee on Monday, Feb. 14, adopted an amendment to the House paid leave bill that appropriates $1.7 billion from the General Fund to support the first two years of the program. Under the newest version of the proposal, workers would start receiving benefits starting in 2023 but employers would not begin paying premiums until 2024.

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Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, has backed paid leave legislation for the past six years and is carrying a Senate bill to create a program. The Republican-controlled Senate has not held a hearing for the bill. Meanwhile, the DFL-controlled House has passed paid leave legislation in previous sessions and will likely do the same again this year. The house paid leave bill’s author is Mendota Heights Democrat Ruth Richardson.

Gov. Tim Walz has expressed support for a paid family leave bill and included a program in his multi-billion dollar budget proposal ahead of the legislative session. However, without Senate approval, a bill will never reach his desk.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce opposes the family leave program proposal. Minnesota Senate Republicans opposed to the bill said it increases taxes on employers for benefits they may already offer or that workers might not need.

“We’ve heard the calls from parents and working Minnesotans to have a flexible, free-market solution to help them care for their families and we will work on solutions to meet their needs,” Sen. Julia Coleman, R-Chanhassen, said in a January statement in reaction to Walz's paid leave proposal. “A bureaucratic, government-run, one-size-fits-all program that taxes main street businesses and their employees is not the answer to meet the individual needs of parents and caregivers.”

Nine states and the District of Columbia require employers to offer paid family leave.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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