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D.C. Mayor Won’t Veto Paid Family Leave Measure

Michelle D. Anderson

If approved by Congress, more than a half million people who work in the city—including those who live outside the District—will receive between 50 and 90 percent of their weekly paycheck while on leave.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday returned D.C.’s Universal Paid Leave Act bill to council members unsigned, keeping the measure on pace to become law before spring.

Bowser explained the decision to withhold her signature from the landmark bill in a letter to Council Chair Phil Mendelson, WAMU reported.

Bowser, who had until Thursday to sign, veto, or return the bill to the council, said she supports the concept of paid family leave but thinks the council’s measure was too costly and burdensome for businesses. D.C.’s business lobby fought the family leave measure for months before it was passed by the council.

Relying on a 0.62 percent payroll tax, the city’s new paid leave program would offer part-time and full-time D.C. workers eight weeks of paid leave following childbirth, adoption, or a new foster-care arrangement; six weeks to care for sick relatives; and two weeks of personal medical leave.

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D.C.’s family leave program, which is expected to cost $250 million annually once it debuts in 2020, is now headed to Congress for a 30-day review.

If approved by Congress, more than 500,000 people who work in the city— including those living outside the District—will receive between 50 and 90 percent of their weekly paycheck while on leave.

For example, workers who earn less than $46,000 annually will receive the maximum of 90 percent, while higher-paid workers will receive a smaller percentage, up to $1,000 weekly. Workers employed by the federal or D.C. government are exempt from the program, which will take precedence over existing paid leave policies offered by employers.

D.C. Council members David Grosso and Elissa Silverman introduced the paid leave measure in fall 2015.

Silverman told Rewire in January that she was happy with the family leave bill, although it differed from what she introduced last year. Calling it a “great starting point,” she said universal paid leave would help the D.C. economy, despite the contentions of some business groups like the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.

“An extensive report from the budget office shows that there are some very tangible benefits,” said Silverman, who cited higher productivity and decreased worker turnover as gains.

Citing claims that the city’s smoking ban and upcoming minimum wage increase would push businesses to neighboring Virginia, Silverman said opponents of family-friendly policies often rely on unfounded potential outcomes to have those measures overturned.

“We still hear the same sky is falling rebuttal,” Silverman said. “The evidence actually shows when we implement policies that help working families, our economy seems to improve. …There’s no evidence that it’s destructive.”

A group that included the Chamber of Commerce and the Consortium of Universities this month reinforced their opposition to the bill in a letter to Bowser, WAMU reported.

Had Bowser vetoed the measure this week, two-thirds of the council could have overridden her decision.

The 13-person council, which approved the bill in a 9-4 vote in December, has since welcomed two new members. One of those members, Trayon White, has said he supports the measure, WAMU reported.

In her letter, Bowser said she would be willing to negotiate with the council to “overcome the very significant deficiencies” in the bill and “fund and refine the legislation,” WAMU reported.

Statewide paid leave programs are rare in the U.S. but common in developed countries.

New York will debut a similar program in 2018, while California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey already have programs in place.

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