Many Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor politicians have made the creation of a paid family and medical leave program a top goal. It’s just one of many new possibilities at the Capitol now that they will have total control of the state government starting on January 3.
A comprehensive new paid leave system, according to its proponents, would help level the playing field for low-wage employees who often lack access to benefits via their employment. Republicans and statewide business organizations, meanwhile, have previously opposed DFL paid leave ideas because they would add extra taxes and bureaucracy.
However, a new compensated program in Minnesota is more likely to become a reality this year thanks to a DFL majority in the Senate and the House as well as a Democratic governor.
The Mendota Heights Democrat Rep. Ruth Richardson said she is working with lawmakers on a new measure and is confident about paid leave’s prospects in the next year. She has carried the concept in the House and is scheduled to do so in the upcoming legislative session.
With the composition of the 2023 Legislature, she believed there was a genuine chance to invest seriously in ensuring that families have access to paid family and medical leave. “These are choices that shouldn’t be based on chance, and nobody should ever have to decide between their own needs and those of a loved one.”
Paid leave legislation has surfaced in the Legislature in a variety of formats, and according to Richardson, she and other caucus members are currently working on developing a measure for the 2023 session. Though the specifics of Minnesota’s paid leave legislation are yet unknown, previous proposals provide some insight into potential future laws.
An earlier proposal from House Democrats called for the establishment of a state program that would provide up to 12 weeks of partly paid time off for personal reasons, such as the birth of a child or the terrible illness or death of a family member. Additionally, it would provide up to 12 weeks of medical leave, including for issues related to pregnancy.
The leave program would probably function similarly to the state’s current unemployment insurance scheme, with contributions from both businesses and workers going into a state-run pool. A sliding scale connected to income level would determine the amount of money a recipient gets, with employers and workers each contributing roughly $3 each week. Depending on their income, workers might get up to 90% of their regular pay while on leave.
According to impartial legislative analysis, previous House DFL family and medical leave legislation would similarly establish a new agency to manage the program, and the initial setup would cost more than $1.7 billion in the first two years. Workers will begin getting benefits in 2023 under the most current House version of the plan, but employers would not start paying premiums until 2024.
Although industry organizations think it is now closer to $1 billion, earlier forecasts showed the state would raise $840 million annually in new taxes to support the program.
Tim Walz, the governor, and the incoming DFL legislature leaders have all indicated that paid family and medical leave would be a top priority. In his supplementary budget proposals from last January, Walz proposed a leave of absence.
A measure this session may resemble previous Democratic legislative proposals, and additional financing is available to launch the program thanks to the record expected budget surplus, which has risen to $17.6 billion in the most current forecast.
Republicans from Minnesota recently supported a different paid family and medical leave package in the Senate, but DFLers, labor groups, and other paid leave proponents did not support it.
Sen. Julia Coleman, R-Waconia, has introduced a bill that would change the existing law to let insurers to market leave policies to employers. Coleman and other supporters said that by avoiding additional taxes and administrative expenses, the idea would enable firms to provide paid leave.
The National Federation of Independent Business and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce both supported the legislation.
Richardson and other Democrats said that the measure left low-income employees out and wouldn’t provide a safety net in the case of significant medical problems.
The NFIB criticized the DFL’s paid family leave plan when the state’s new record surplus was revealed on December 6 and suggested that the state concentrate on tax reduction.
According to a press release from the NFIB Minnesota State Director John Reynolds, “first, tax hikes in any form must be off the table.” This includes the billion-dollar payroll tax increase that will be proposed in order to pay for a new, unrealistic government-run paid leave requirement.
Although she won’t be re-elected to the Senate this year, Woodbury Democrat Sen. Susan Kent previously sponsored the Senate DFL paid leave measure. Who will lead that discussion in that chamber is not yet obvious.
The DFL version of the paid family and medical leave legislation never received a hearing while Republicans controlled the Senate. That won’t be the case in 2023, according to a representative for the Senate DFL caucus.
Employers are required by nine states and the District of Columbia to provide paid family leave.