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Without Federal Policy In Place, Democratic Lawmakers Push For Paid Family Leave In Louisiana

Senator JP Morrell (D-New Orleans) at a press conference Wedneday, April 17, supporting the Louisiana Family and Medical Leave Benefits Act.
Wallis Watkins
Senator JP Morrell (D-New Orleans) at a press conference Wedneday, April 17, supporting the Louisiana Family and Medical Leave Benefits Act.

A handful of Democratic legislators are pushing a plan to provide paid family and medical leave for working families in Louisiana.

Senator JP Morrell (D-New Orleans) is the bill’s author.

"Just like businesses and employees pay into a workers comp pool," explained Morrell, "you’d pay into a paid family leave pool. It’d be a very small amount, but it’d create a pool statewide that would be drawn from whenever someone has to utilize family leave."

The automatic contribution made to the family leave pool would be less than half of one percent of an employee’s salary, split almost evenly by the employee and their company.

"The reality is that in a state as poor as ours, you have to find a way to balance the interest of making sure the businesses can still provide quality jobs to their employees, while providing this resource," said Morrell.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act protects an employee’s job during their absence, but doesn’t guarantee their pay.

At a press conference Wednesday, Caitlin Berni, head of the Louisiana Families First Coalition which backs the bill, said unpaid leave puts families in a bind.

"Newborns aren’t able to be cared for by their own parents, and families are going into financial crisis because of unpaid leave and the cost of care," said Berni. 

Morrell's bill would provide paid leave for up to 12 weeks, and not just for new parents. Caretakers, military families facing deployment and those recovering from domestic abuse could also qualify. 

"Is the will there politically? I don’t know yet, it could be," he said.  "As far as things go, this is probably the least aggressive of all the acts out there to provide economic security to employees."

Legislation concerning equal pay and minimum wage policies, also deemed employee-friendly, will be debated this session.  Both measures have been defeated in the Legislature over the last three years.

Morrell believes a statewide paid family and medical leave program doesn't face quite the uphill battle equal pay and minimum wage policies have in the past.

The move will face pushback from business groups. Louisiana’s chapter of  the small business group National Federation of Independent Business opposes the bill.

In a statement, Dawn Starns, NFIB Louisiana's State Director, says "a lot of small businesses can’t afford to pay an absent employee and hire a replacement, so this legislation would drive up the cost of doing business in Louisiana."

The bill's is expected go in front of the Senate Labor committee next week.

Copyright 2021 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Wallis Watkins is a Baton Rouge native. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Philosophy from Louisiana State University in 2013. Soon after, she joined WRKF as an intern and is now reporting on health and health policy for Louisiana's Prescription.

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