D.C. Considering 16 Weeks Paid Leave for Parents, Caregivers

Legislation proposed by D.C. Council members would give Washington workers 16 weeks of paid leave -- more than employers are required to offer anywhere in the country.

Councilmember David Grosso introduced the Universal Paid Leave Act on Tuesday, which would allow almost all D.C. employees to take home a paycheck while they care for a newborn, adopted child or parent; recover from a serious illness or recuperate after a military deployment.

The legislation would more than double the length of any paid-leave program in the country and would apply to men, women and all families, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.

"To give people the opportunity to go and care for a loved one, to engage in their family activities -- whether there's a newborn child or an adopted child or an elderly parent -- is extremely important," Grosso said Tuesday. "I think this country and certainly our city need to evolve to that point."

The bill had the support on Monday of 8 of the D.C. Council's 13 members, but is expected to face major opposition.

Harry Wingo Jr., president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said many entrepreneurs can't handle the additional cost.

"It's unfair for D.C. businesses, and what I'm concerned about is it's going to make us not competitive regionally," he said. "It goes further than anything else in the country."

A fund created by a new tax on employers would pay for the benefit. City employers would pay as much as 1 percent of salaries or wages of full- and part-time employees. Workers who earn as much as $52,000 a year would get 100 percent of pay while they're away. Higher earners would get $1,000 weekly plus 50 percent of additional income up to a maximum of $3,000.

Maryland and Virginia residents who work for the federal government would not be eligible for the leave, The Washington Post reported. D.C. residents who work for the federal government and federal contractors could opt into the system and pay a fee to participate, according to the Post.

Only three states require employers to offer paid family leave, and for much less time. California gives 6 weeks, New Jersey gives 6 weeks and Rhode Island gives 4 weeks.

D.C. nonprofit worker Jessica Champagne brought her infant son to the Wilson Building on Monday and said family leave had been crucial for them.

"It's been one of the most special times, and also I don't know how we would have done it any other way," she said. "It's been a big learning curve, learning how to take care of this guy."

Public hearings on the bill will be held before the Council votes on the measure later this year or early next year. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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