Thursday, February 9th 2017
Montanans who had to leave their jobs because of health issues or family needs gathered at the Capitol in Helena on Thursday to support a bill creating a paid family and medical leave program.
House Bill 392 had its initial hearing in the Business & Labor Committee of the Montana House of Representatives.
Jemma Hazen only had access to six weeks of unpaid leave after giving birth to her son. She told lawmakers she struggled with postpartum depression and fatigue after returning to her job. Eventually she decided to leave work, leaving her family without health insurance.
“No family should have to choose between nurturing a newborn and a fulfilling career, but there are countless stories just like mine,” Hazen said.
Supporters say HB 392 will help keep people from dropping out of the workforce.
The bill is being carried by Democratic Rep. Jenny Eck of Helena, the House minority leader.
At the beginning of the 2017 legislative session, Eck identified paid leave as one of House Democrats’ top priorities.
“Two of the most fundamental values we hold dear as a society, and most especially as Montanans, are to work hard and to care for our families,” said Eck. “Those two values should not be in conflict with one another.”
HB 392 would let qualifying workers receive part of their salary for up to 12 weeks while dealing with a serious health condition or caring for a new child or ill family member. The benefits would be paid for by a new state account, funded by matching contributions from businesses and employees.
The Montana Department of Labor and Industry would determine the percentage of contributions each year, but they could be no higher than one percent of an employee’s monthly wages.
Weekly paid leave would be capped at $1,000, and low-wage workers would have a larger share of their income covered. Eck said that would help maintain the fund’s solvency.
Eligibility for the benefits would be based on the same criteria as unemployment insurance.
Representatives from labor and women’s advocacy groups testified in favor of HB 392. Supporters also read testimony from several business owners who were unable to attend the meeting. They argued a paid leave could be beneficial for businesses, reducing turnover and helping attract workers.
No one testified in opposition to HB 392 at Thursday’s meeting.
The Business & Labor Committee took no immediate action on the bill.