Health Care

Dems eye expanding paid family, medical leave

Legislators in Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Maine and New Mexico are likely to consider paid family and medical leave legislation next year.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Legislators and governors in at least five states could consider legislation in coming sessions to expand paid family and medical leave programs after Democrats consolidated control in this year’s midterm elections.

Supporters of expanded leave programs say they see an opportunity to pass legislation in Michigan and Minnesota, where Democrats won control of legislative chambers this year, and in Illinois, where the party won a supermajority.

Sherry Leiwant, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, which advocates for paid leave programs, said lawmakers in Maine and New Mexico are likely to consider versions as well. Both states have task forces working on paid leave policy recommendations.

Paid leave programs begin in January in Colorado and Oregon. Eleven states passed paid family leave laws, along with the District of Columbia.

Oregon employees will be able to apply for benefits starting in September. Colorado employees will have to wait until next January.

Social insurance programs that pay for family and medical leave help people manage the financial strain and stress of illness, childbirth and other life events, supporters of the programs say. So far, only left-leaning states have embraced the idea. 

Republicans and business groups tend to argue that state paid leave programs are too costly and complicated for businesses, particularly small ones. Among the states that do not have paid leave programs, 18 states — mostly those under Republican control — have preempted cities and counties from requiring employers to offer paid time off.

Several of the states that do have paid leave programs preempt cities and counties from diverging from state law. 

Over half the states with a paid family and medical leave law enacted it while Democrats held both the governor’s office and the legislature, according to a Pluribus News review of state laws. 

Colorado voters  skipped the governor and legislature altogether when they approved a ballot measure in 2020 creating a paid leave program.

State paid family and medical leave laws typically allow eligible workers to take about 12 weeks off to welcome a new child, manage a serious illness or care for a sick family member. The programs usually cover half or more of an eligible worker’s weekly pay while they’re on leave, up to a certain limit. 

In California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island workers cover the full cost of the insurance program. In Washington, D.C., employers foot the bill.

In the remaining states employers and employees split the cost. When Colorado’s program takes effect, premiums will be set at 0.9% of employee wages. The employer and employee each contribute half that amount. 

Every state but Delaware that has a paid family and medical leave program also requires employers to grant workers paid sick days, according to A Better Balance. 

Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico and Vermont do not require paid leave, but existing state laws there do require employers to offer paid sick days. Maine and Nevada have laws that require employers to offer up to 40 hours of paid time off a year, which can include sick time.