Louisiana group pushes paid family leave

New Orleans Democratic Sen. J.P. Morrell addresses a rally Wednesday, April 17,2019, in favor of a state paid family and leave program

A new coalition of Louisiana groups are lining up behind a proposal from state Sen. J.P. Morrell to create a paid family and medical leave program in the state, mirroring a federal effort being spearheaded in part by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy.

Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, rallied with a handful of fellow lawmakers, state officials and advocacy groups outside the state Capitol on Wednesday to call for a paid family leave scheme that’d offer Louisianans greater leeway to care for newborns or ailing relatives.

“Too often in Louisiana, families must choose between keeping their job and doing what’s right and necessary for their families,” Morrell said.

“That should not be a choice anybody has to make,” the senator added.

Morrell’s bill, Senate Bill 186, would create a state-run fund to pay out partial paychecks to working Louisianans dealing with family medical emergencies, caring for newborn children, family members on military deployments or other sudden strains on families.

The proposal likely faces an uphill climb during the current state legislative session. But coalition organizers hope the effort could build momentum for coming years and point to bipartisan interest in a national paid family leave program in Washington.

No Republican state lawmakers in Louisiana have signed onto Morrell’s bill, though coalition organizers said they’re hopeful they’ll be able to build bipartisan support in the coming weeks. Cassidy, a Republican from Baton Rouge, has been an outspoken supporter of creating a national paid family leave program.

Caitlin Berni, a veteran political consultant who's helping lead the coalition, said creating a paid family and medical leave program is "one of those rare, bipartisan opportunities to pass legislation that will benefit all Louisiana families."

President Donald Trump’s daughter and advisor, Ivanka Trump, has made family leave a signature issue and lobbied Capitol Hill Republicans to build a legislative proposal.

Cassidy has held hearings on potential plans and recently announced he’s working with Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, to draw up bipartisan legislation.

Backers of the proposals have argued that the United States’ lack of a paid family leave program hurts young families and creates a drag on the economy by making it more difficult for parents and caretakers to hold down jobs and eventually return to the workforce.

Although paid family leave has attracted bipartisan support nationally, funding the scheme has remained divisive.

Morrell’s bill would create a very small new payroll tax of 0.064 percent — split roughly evenly between employers and employees — to cover the cost of providing paid leave to working state residents.

A number of Democrats in Congress have also discussed similar schemes to fund a national insurance scheme to cover paid family leave with a new federal payroll tax.

Republicans, meanwhile, have so far been less willing to consider new taxes to fund the scheme and have instead looked at borrowing from existing social insurance programs to fund family leave.

U.S. Sens. Jodi Ernst, of Iowa, and Marco Rubio, of Florida, both Republicans, both put forward plans that would borrow from future Social Security retirement payments to cover the cost of the plans.

Americans who tapped paid family leave under Ernst and Rubio’s proposals would have to pay back the money or receive smaller future retirement payments.

Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.