The Register-Herald of Beckley published this editorial on Jan. 18 regarding a proposed West Virginia bill that could ensure paid family leave for state employees:
The United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee its citizens paid family leave. A proposed bill in the West Virginia statehouse could change that in part — at least for state employees here in the Mountain State.
While legislation has stalled at the federal level, efforts are underway here at home to provide state employees 12 weeks of paid family leave following the birth or adoption of a child or when a family member is suffering a serious illness.
On Jan. 14, Del. Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, and Del. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, introduced the measure that calls for that paid time off for state employees by amending state law.
Good for them. This course correction is long overdue.
Under current state law, public employees are allowed to take 12 weeks of unpaid family leave in situations following the birth or adoption of a child, or when a family member is seriously ill — but only after exhausting all other forms of paid leave. The proposed legislation would change some of that.
While there is no fiscal note on the new bill, Capito believes, once in place, the law would result in a cost savings to the state.
Regardless, this is a progressive, forward-thinking measure for a state desperately in need of such. With the state’s population in a steady decline, with deaths exceeding births, this measure alone would give state employees the confidence — and the financial support — to start or add to their families and to stay at home here in West Virginia and put down some roots. Yes, a proverbial win-win.
This is the kind of legislation that can put a needed shine on the West Virginia star. It would be a start, anyway. There is much the Legislature could do — but hasn’t — to help working families and, simultaneously add to an improved image of our state.
Of course, what would be even better is if Congress would get off its duff and pass the Family Act so that all Americans could benefit from paid time away from work. Current federal law — the Family and Medical Leave Act — already permits 12 weeks away from work but without pay. The federal Act — co-sponored by a pair of Democrats, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut — fixes that. Workers would be eligible to collect benefits equal to 66% of their typical monthly wages, with a capped monthly maximum amount of $1,000 per week.
Fortunate and wealthy people already get time off, of course. Overall, however, only 12% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and these workers are disproportionately well paid, highly educated and male.
Paid family leave for all is not a new concept. Parents in Sweden get 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay, and new moms in Denmark get 18 weeks of maternity leave at full pay. Four states — California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — have passed paid leave laws.
The federal Act is not an entitlement, but an earned benefit similar to Social Security.
It is also affordable: Employees and employers would each make contributions of 0.2% of wages, or two cents for every $10 earned.
And the benefits far outweigh the cost. Women with access to paid family leave are more likely to stay in the workforce, building their careers, and off of public assistance.
Likewise, families with access to paid family and medical leave are less likely to declare bankruptcy and their children have better long-term health. Parents’ time at home with infants in the first year of life can have long-lasting effects on their children’s future academic performance and help build a better, more able workforce.
We applaud both Capito and Nelson for addressing the wrinkle in state code even if it narrowly addresses only state employees.
This should be an easy call. Legislation that puts families first, that honors state workers, that lifts up and strengthens working families — especially in a state that has too long ignored real issues out here in the real world — should sail through the legislative process and be signed into law by our governor.
In the meantime, Del. Capito ought to give his mom, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a call and urge her and our state’s senior senator, Joe Manchin, to get behind the Family Act and drop the watered down version that they currently support.
It’d be good for the whole family.