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Paid Family Leave Introduced in Wisconsin’s GOP-Dominated Legislature

Michelle D. Anderson

Voters across party lines overwhelmingly support up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, according to 2016 polling from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Wisconsin Democrats have introduced a bill that could keep working families from having to take unpaid time off to care for a new child or ill family member.

State Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains) and state Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) this week introduced legislation that would create a Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Insurance program. California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York have all enacted paid family leave laws.

Like the Universal Paid Leave Act passed by District of Columbia officials in December, the Wisconsin measures would allow workers to receive paid time off to care for a new child, for a sick family member, or for themselves during an illness.

The program would modify the state’s existing family leave law by allowing workers to take time off not only for immediate family members, but also grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and eligible relatives deployed overseas by the military.

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Unlike the D.C. program, the Wisconsin legislation would be funded entirely by employees rather than an employer payroll tax. The bills would require workers to contribute a portion of each paycheck to a trust fund.

Ringhand said in a statement that her family had been affected by the absence of paid leave after her son broke his femur. “Luckily my husband had a good union job and our family still had a source of income. For far too many families living paycheck to paycheck it’s not an option to give up one day’s pay much less a longer period,” she said.

Voters across party lines overwhelmingly support up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, according to 2016 polling from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Ringhand said Wisconsin officials have failed to help workers secure paid leave and other essential benefits. A Ringhand staffer told Rewire in an email that the bill is seeking cosponsors. The legislation has until April 7 for all cosponsorships.

Ringhand noted that under Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), the state failed to submit a federal grant application in June to “research, analyze and develop” paid family and medical leave programs.

“We and forty of our colleagues wrote a letter to Governor Walker urging him to apply for a grant. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Wisconsin failed to submit a grant application by the deadline,” she said last year.

Ringhand and Pope introduced similar legislation last year. Both bills failed to pass in the GOP-majority legislature, although one received a public hearing.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin (PPAWI), the advocacy arm of the state Planned Parenthood affiliate, praised the paid family leave measures. Nicole Safar, PPAWI government relations director, called the legislation “a step in the right direction” and said working people should not have to choose between “bonding with their newborn or going without pay.”

“Though the federal and state Family Medical Leave Acts do provide important protections to employees, this law would go further by covering more workers and providing paid instead of unpaid leave,” Safar said.

The United States remains without a paid family leave policy. Democrats on Capitol Hill are once again pushing the issue, hoping President Trump will revisit his campaign promise to back a paid leave law.

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