family leave bill

Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, questions opponents to his Senate Bill 186 that would create paid leave for family purposes in Louisiana. Business interests are against the idea, but senators on the Labor & Industrial Relations panel advanced the measure on a 4-1 vote, Thursday, May 2, 2019.

A Louisiana Senate panel easily advanced legislation that would create paid leave for employees to care for family members or after a child is born.

Proponents say this is first time in a deep red state the idea of paid family leave has gotten out of the starting gate.

Its future may be a little bumpy as Senate Bill 186 now heads for the Senate Finance Committee. If the measure clears that hurdle, it would then face a vote in the full Senate. At that point, the legislation would have to be approved by a much more conservative and business-friendly House to reach the governor’s desk.

And all this must happen in five weeks before the session ends on June 6.

“Sometimes we get surprised,” New Orleans Democratic Sen. Wesley Bishop said of the measure’s chances.

“We won’t have shot at all if we don’t get it to the floor,” added Sen. JP Morrell, the New Orleans Democrat who sponsored the measure.

SB186 would create a fund administered by the Louisiana Workforce Commission. About 0.0064 percent of the employee's pay would be sent to the dedicated fund. Of that amount the employee would pay 55 percent and the employer would contribute 45 percent.

For an employee making $45,000 a year, the taxed amount would be about $288 spread over the year, which would amount to the cost of a cappuccino each week.

The fund would allow employees to collect at least a portion of their pay while taking time off to handle family crisis, serious illnesses or pregnancies.

Seven states have similar programs. The experience in other states indicate that only about 3 percent of employees would use the benefits, said proponent Zach Butterworth, a New Orleans attorney..

Generally, only highly paid employees are given paid leave by their employers as part of their benefits package. The legislation would ensure about 80 percent of the state’s workers would also be able to take off up to 12 weeks and receive some of their pay.

In many instances, women are forced to leave the workforce when they have children and others have to choose between helping a family member and keeping their job, said Stacey Roussel, senior policy analyst at the Louisiana Budget Project.

Representatives of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry as well as the National Federation of Independent Business testified that a state policy of paid family leave would intrude on businesses' internal operations and amounted to an additional cost to bare. 

Sen. Neil Riser, the Columbia Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations, said he generally supports the idea but as small business owner he worries about another demand from government. "It concerns me, one more, one more, one more," he said.

The committee voted 4-1 to advance the legislation.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.