Paid family leave efforts sit stagnant as lawmakers cross off Whitmer’s priorities

paid family leave

By Michigan Advance

June 3, 2024

BY KYLE DAVIDSON, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—As Democrats won a majority in the House and Senate and retained control of the governor’s office in 2022, the party’s trifecta carried forward decades of unfulfilled legislative goals.

With the first Democratic trifecta in 40 years sworn in at the start of 2023, Democratic lawmakers took on years of pent-up policy with a slim two-seat majority in the House and Senate. Though efforts such as repealing Michigan’s Right to Work laws and creating red flag laws previously failed to gain traction under Republican leadership, Democrats were able to move the needle on multiple long-held priorities.

In her “What’s Next” Address last August, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shared her policy priorities for the remainder of 2023. The list mostly focused on health, energy, the economy and democracy as she called on lawmakers to pass policies addressing prescription drug affordability, reproductive rights, clean energy siting, and paid family leave, among other efforts.

Last May, state Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and state Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) each introduced policies—Senate Bills 332 and 333 and House Bills 4574 and 4575—that would provide workers around the state with up to 15 weeks of paid leave, which would be paid for through contributions by both employers and employees.

While many of Whitmer’s priorities have gained at least some traction within the Legislature, the paid family leave policies have stagnated in committee, as both packages have yet to receive a hearing.

Following the governor’s speech, a leaked memo from Michigan House Republicans blasted Scott’s proposal as a “summer break for adults.”

In an email House Republican spokesperson Jeremiah Ward later told the Advance that Republicans supported paid family leave for those tending to family and medical needs, but that the proposal was “poorly written” and would “burden workers and small businesses with a new tax while allowing some people to take advantage of an important benefit.”

On May 15, about a year since both policies were referred to committee, the Michigan Paid Leave For All Coalition, sent a letter to Senate Housing and Human Services Committee Chair Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and House Labor Committee Chair Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek) calling for action on the bills.

The coalition—whose members include Mothering Justice, the Michigan League for Public Policy and Detroit Disability Power alongside other community, labor and health access groups—letter was also sent to the governor, Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), and members of the Senate Housing and Human Services and House Labor Committees.

Haadsma told the Advance that Democratic leadership hadn’t shown any interest in having Scott’s bills presented before the end of June, remaining focused on the state budget.

“There are many pent up issues we’d like to take up. [We’re] waiting for a signal from leadership to proceed,” Haadsma said, noting it was unlikely the committee would take up the policies before members of the House adjourn for the summer.

When asked about the possibility of Geiss’ package receiving a hearing in the Senate, Irwin told the Advance there had been discussions about how to move the policy forward, and that money was placed into the state budget for Fiscal Year 2024 to conduct an actuarial analysis of what it would cost for the state to adopt the proposed system for family leave.

At the Moms First Summit in New York earlier this month, Whitmer reaffirmed her support for family leave and discussed her experience caring for her mother who had brain cancer, while also serving in the Legislature and raising a newborn child, Bridge Michigan reported.

Danielle Atkinson, the national executive director and founder of Mothering Justice, an organization seeking to empower mothers of color in advocating for policy change said it’s important for laws and policies to reflect the way people live.

“Not having paid leave means not being able to care for yourself first and foremost. It means taking into consideration how you’re going to pay rent, if you’re going to be able to afford the medication that you need to be well,” Atkinson said.

“You’re having to consider whether or not you can make ends meet while you’re making other decisions. And sometimes it’s these things that we’re talking about around cancer diagnosis or taking care of someone with dementia, and then sometimes it’s about welcoming a new child to your family. But unfortunately, our laws and our policies haven’t kept up with what we need as a society,” Atkinson said.

While everybody gets sick, not everybody has time to get well, Atkinson said. Having paid family leave would help level the playing field and create equity for those who otherwise would not be able to afford to take time off work, she said.

In her August address, Whitmer noted that 77% of Michigan families do not have access to paid family and medical leave.

Recent polling commissioned by Mothering Justice and conducted by Mitchell Research Communications Inc. found 63% of likely voters were in favor of a paid family leave. Half of the voters polled felt it was important for the governor to sign the legislation in the 2024 calendar year.

The benefits of having a paid family leave policy in the state would also extend to those who don’t directly receive it, Atkinson said, detailing a conversation she had with a stay-at-home mother, whose husband benefitted from General Motors recent extension of its paid leave policy.

“She’s like, ‘You know, I’m able to breathe; I’m able to take a break; I’m able to take a sick day from being a stay-at-home mom because my husband has this benefit.’ So it is so important not only for the ones who are receiving it, but for the community that is being supported by that individual,” Atkinson said.

The proposed paid family leave policies also take into account that family goes beyond blood, Atkinson said.

Additionally, the poll found that 46% of voters would be more likely to stay and work in Michigan if the state adopted a paid family and medical leave program.

As the Whitmer administration looks to grow Michigan’s economy and make the state an attractive place to raise a family, Atkinson said policymakers can’t be nearsighted.

“We have to think what people will be considering after college in different stages of their lives in different caregiving positions and roles,” she said. “If we’re going to be a state that leads economically we have to be a state that’s leading for workers and the people in the workforce.”

READ MORE: Opinion: Michigan needs paid family and medical leave in 2024

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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