Delaware legislators advance paid leave bill

 A bill that would mandate paid maternity or paternity leave for Delaware state employees advanced Tuesday in Legislative Hall in Dover. (File/WHYY)

A bill that would mandate paid maternity or paternity leave for Delaware state employees advanced Tuesday in Legislative Hall in Dover. (File/WHYY)

Delaware legislators advanced legislation Tuesday that calls for 12 weeks paid maternity or paternity leave to full-time state employees, including teachers, after one year of employment.

Under the legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred, new parents also would be eligible for leave for up to one year after a child’s birth or the adoption of a child under age 6.

More than 100 countries offer at least 14 weeks of paid family or parental leave. But, as of 2016, the U.S. was one of only a few countries — and the only industrialized nation — without mandated paid maternity leave.

Some major companies, such as Bank of America, DuPont and AstraZeneca, offer paid parental or family leave to their workers, however.

Democrats argued the benefits to child and parent if they have time to bond.

However, Republicans argued the bill is not fiscally responsible. In fiscal year 2020 and 2021, the state would spend about $3.9 million. School districts would spend about $1 million in fiscal year 2019, and the state would reimburse them the following year.

State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, introduced an amendment reducing the number of weeks the state would pay for leave, but it did not receive the votes needed to pass.

“We have many people in the state who would love to have 12 weeks. It’s hard to stand here and say we’re going to elevate state workers to this level, but the people footing the bill don’t have same consideration,” she said.

Republicans also voiced concerns that state agencies and schools would struggle to temporarily fill the positions, fearing more employees would take off to care for a child.

Secretary of Education Susan Bunting testified the department currently has a teacher shortage and struggles to find substitute teachers.

Democrats did not agree with GOP concerns, and the legislation passed 27-13.

“I’m somewhat shocked by the rhetoric from other side of the aisle,” said state Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover.

“The fact is the United States has the worst record among advanced nations on mandatory maternity leave. Child care now exceeds most families’ rent,” he said. “Most women who have abortions already have a child, and millions of women report it’s a combination of family finances and work that together create a significant factor in their decision to terminate a pregnancy.”

The legislation will now advance to the Senate. If passed, paid leave would be offered starting in April 2019.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.