Paid Family Leave Not On Front Burner In Senate
January 16, 2024
When asked how confident he is that his committee will vote on legislation establishing 15 weeks of paid family leave in Michigan this year, Senate Housing and Human Services Chair Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said “I don’t know.”
“I’m tempted to just (throw) in a number or something, but I really don’t have a solid read on where we are,” Irwin said to MIRS Thursday. “I think that there are a lot of folks who I think share my philosophical bent on this, which is that we should have a family leave policy – we should have better labor laws in the state that are more family and worker friendly. But the details are incredibly important.
“And I think a lot of members have questions about how those details will land, and they want to get feedback from their businesses and from their workers, and so, given that most of that hasn’t happened yet, it’s really hard to handicap how the timing of this will work.”
In August 2023, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer listed creating a paid family leave system as one of her policy priorities in her “What’s Next Address,” which highlighted goals for the second half of the year.
Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor)’s SB 332 currently sits within Irwin’s Senate Housing and Human Services Committee and has been sitting there for more than seven months. Similarly, HB 4574 by Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) has been sitting within the House Labor Committee since May of last year.
Under the legislation, an employee can be paid up to 65 percent of the state’s average weekly wage for the birth or adoption of a child or the need to care for a child, parent or spouse with a serious health condition. The employee would be paid out of a “family leave optimal coverage fund” that would be funded through employer contributions and as much as 50 percent from the employees.
The preexisting federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) authorizes 12 weeks of non-consequential time off and does not require employers in the country to compensate workers while they’re away.
Near the end of 2023, the Legislature approved an end-of-year spending bill – Public Act 321 of 2023 – dedicating $250,000 to Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to hire a third-party expert to conduct a statewide actuarial study on paid family leave.
Although Irwin said he doesn’t want to box himself in completely, he would say that his committee is currently on the trajectory where the committee will begin hearings around the bill when the study is completed and its information is available.
“If some new information comes to the table that answers some of the questions and concerns that people have without that study, presumably we can move more quickly,” Irwin said. “But . . . I think the actuarial study you’re talking about would provide a lot of the details that people are asking for.”
A Nov. 30-Dec. 1 poll of 773 voters commissioned by Progress Michigan found that 69 percent of Michiganders supported 15 weeks of paid family leave in 2024. Forty percent of respondents strongly supported the proposal, 29 percent somewhat supported it and a combined 27 percent either somewhat or strongly opposed it.
The most vocal opposition against the proposal has come from business community organizations, like the Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA) and the Small Business Association of Michigan.
“It would be in our estimate $1.5 billion that would have to be shared by employees and employers, so it’s not a free lunch – so to speak – for employees,” said MMA President John Walsh on the New Year’s Day edition of the MIRS Monday Podcast. “We think there are other ways that we can help employees move forward, and we’d love to have the conversation with the Legislature and the Governor’s office. Things like improving our childcare structure in the state of Michigan.”
For example, Walsh pointed to possibly having the MI Tri-Share program – where childcare expenses are shared among employers, employees and the state, with regional facilitator hubs providing coordination – turned into a larger program.
“It’s somewhere above a prototype, but not quite funded to the full extent, so we’re going to approach the table in a way that we hope is fair to employees and employers, and does something good for our community,” Walsh said.
As of August 2022 – the most recent monthly report on MI Tri-Share – 85 employers in Michigan were enrolled, and 102 children, ranging from six months to 11-years-old, were receiving care through the program. In the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, the program was appropriated $3.4 million.
Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog newsletter