2019 Paid Family Leave: Political Changes You Need to Know

January 16, 2019
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Trying to keep track of all the legislative action on Paid Family Leave can make your head spin. Here's a one-stop guide to what's happening now and what's on the horizon for 2019. We'll also highlight how political power shifts could favor the push for Paid Family Leave.

Big Progress in 2018 — A Quick Review

An estimated 4.8 million people had access to more generous Paid Family Leave benefits in 2018.1 That's thanks in part to the recent state laws highlighted below. It's also because more employers are recognizing the needs of their employees and launching their own paid family leave programs.

3 States Launched or Approved Paid Family Leave in 2018

New York State's program went into effect Jan. 1, 2018, with up to eight weeks of paid leave for covered employees. That increased to 10 weeks for 2019, along with increases to benefits and payroll deductions.

Washington State focused last year on ironing out logistics for its Paid Family and Medical Leave program, which will launch on Jan. 1, 2020. The program covers both private and public employers — a broader mandate than New York’s, which only applies to private employers. Premium withholding started on Jan. 1, 2019. The program will offer up to 12 weeks of Paid Family Leave, 12 weeks of Paid Medical Leave, or 16 weeks total. In cases of complications from pregnancy, it will cover up to 18 weeks.

Massachusetts signed Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation into law on June 28, 2018. The program launching Jan. 1, 2021 will offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member or a new child. It also covers up to 20 weeks of paid leave for personal medical issues and 26 weeks of leave to deal with an emergency related to a family member’s military deployment. Payroll deductions start July 1, 2019.

2019 Forecast: Political Power Shifts May Drive Change — Especially in These 6 States

The mid-term elections shifted the balance of power in many states. The Democratic or progressive influence increased in six states with prior proposed Paid Family Leave legislation:

Hawaii — The State Made Real Progress

Like New York, Hawaii already has state-mandated disability insurance. But it's the last state with statutory disability coverage that doesn't yet offer Paid Family Leave. State Bill 2017 HI SB 2990, signed in 2018, appropriated funds for a study to evaluate other states' programs, as well as the potential impacts and costs for Hawaii.2 Results are due to the legislature Sept. 1, 2019. The mid-term elections continued the Democrats' control of the state House, Senate and governorship. That makes it likely that new legislation will be proposed following the report.

Colorado — New Democratic Trifecta Likely to Revisit 2018 Bill

Colorado flipped the balance in the Senate in the mid-term elections, creating a Democratic trifecta in 2019. News reports say Paid Family Leave has strong support from most Democrats in the General Assembly, as well as the new governor.3

A 2018 bill, Col. HB 1001, was passed in the house, but sat in the Republican-controlled senate. Now that Democrats control the senate, this bill, or one similar, is more likely to pass. It may feature:

  • Partial wage replacement for up to 12 weeks to take leave for any of five categories: bonding with a new child, care for a family member with a serious health condition, an employee's own serious health condition, any other purpose authorized by FMLA, or a qualifying exigency.
  • Amount of benefit varies by income — up to 95 percent of wages for those earning 20 percent or less of annual mean wage. Maximum of $1,000 per week
  • Funding by employee payroll deductions — .99 percent of wages

The 2018 bill covered all employers with one or more employees. But it did not mention private insurance or an option for voluntary employer programs.

Oregon — Democratic Super Majority Fuels Paid Family Leave Momentum

Due to the new three-fifths supermajority in the Oregon Senate and House, advocates have high hopes that 2019 is the year for Paid Family Leave in Oregon.4 Even though last year's House Bill 4160 didn't make it out of committee, momentum is in the state's favor. We don't know many details yet, but expect significant movement in 2019 for Paid Family Leave in Oregon.

New Hampshire — Mixed Political Outlook?

Even though the Republican governor held on to his office, Democrats won control of both branches of the legislature. Democrats say that Paid Family and Medical Leave are big priorities. Gov. Sununu has also stated that he'd like to work toward creating a Paid Family Leave system during this term.5

A different approach to funding? House Bill 628, which passed in only the House last year, called for funding via voluntary contributions from employees. That opt-in approach is unique to date. The bill initially proposed 12 weeks of Paid Family and Medical Leave but was amended to six weeks.6

Missouri — Republicans Keep Trifecta But Democrats Sponsor Paid Leave

Missouri held onto and strengthened its Republican trifecta in the mid-terms. Against those odds, on Dec. 7, 2018, Missouri Democrats sponsored a bill for the 2019 legislative session that includes the Missouri Earned Family and Medical Leave Act.7 If enacted and signed, the Act would still have to win state voters' approval as a referendum measure during the 2020 November election.

What stands out about the proposed legislation?

  • 100 percent income replacement for a six-week maximum of Paid Family or Medical Leave per 52-week period
  • Definition of family member is broader than FMLA and other states — it includes “household members”
  • Requires employees to pay into the state fund for 52 weeks prior to being eligible for the paid leave
  • Program would sunset on Dec. 31, 2025 unless extended, and then extended for 6 years
  • No job protection but there are anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation provisions

Vermont — Governor Lost His Veto Power

Vermont's Republican Governor Phil Scott won a second term but lost his power to veto legislation. The Democrats and Progressives won a combined 102 seats — a supermajority — in the House of Representatives. That may enable them to push a Paid Family Leave bill over the finish line in 2019.

Two past attempts to pass legislation were either vetoed by the Governor or died after the session ended. Due to the new supermajority, it's likely that Democrats will move on similar legislation in 2019. Previously proposed bills were very different from each other, so it’s unclear what new legislation will look like. The prior bills didn’t mention private insurers or voluntary plans.

Will Other Political Changes Support Paid Family Leave in 2019?

Voters in several more states shifted the political landscape. Maine Democrats achieved a trifecta, flipping the Senate and governorship and maintaining control in the House. It's unclear whether they'll revive a bill vetoed last April by the prior Republican governor, 2017 House Paper No. 1091. In Illinois, New Mexico and Nevada, new Democratic trifectas may speed Paid Family Leave legislation.

In Minnesota, the Democrats also gained more power. They flipped the House and retained the governor's office. Paid Family Leave is a priority for the incoming House leadership and new governor Tim Walz. And Republicans leading the Senate may be on-board, “if small businesses aren't hit too hard.”8

Federal Outlook — Will Paid Family Leave be a Priority for the 2019 Legislative Session?

Both sides of the aisle sponsored Paid Family Leave bills in 2018 — with no winners. Now that Democrats control the House, a reinvigorated FAMILY Act is likely to move forward. Sponsored by U.S. Senator Kristen Gillibrand, the 2018 bill proposed 12 weeks of paid leave for family and personal medical needs. It called for funding via a new 0.4 percent payroll tax, split between employers and employees. Previous legislation proposed by Republicans is less likely to gain new life. That includes the Economic Security for New Parents Act and Workflex in the 21st Century Act.

Based on the current political climate, Democrats may push to pass the FAMILY Act quickly. But other priorities may take center stage in Washington, so keep watching. You never know what the next 12 months could bring.

Municipalities — Paid Sick Leave May Be a Bigger Priority

On the county and city level, paid sick leave is a growing trend and likely to be the main focus in 2019.9 It can be a great starting point for municipalities who want to enhance benefits — and may cost less than broader Paid Family Leave programs.

Looking Forward to a Family-Friendly 2019

In spite of all this progress in 2018, only 15 percent of private sector employees are covered by paid leave programs.10 But the outlook is good for this number to rise in 2019, based on these political shifts and growing support for Paid Family Leave.

Across the country and across political lines, it's a positive sign to see so many conversations about helping employees take care of their families. Stay tuned for more Relatively Speaking updates!

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Demographic Perspectives / Legislative Activity