MINNESOTA HOUSE APPROVES PAID FAMILY & MEDICAL LEAVE
A Senate version of the DFL measure, intended to benefit lower-wage earners, awaits action.
Minnesota is another step closer toward creating a tax-funded, state-administered paid family and medical leave program.
Members of the House passed a bill to create a new state program that would offer 12 weeks of family leave and 12 weeks of medical leave. All businesses would be required to participate or offer equivalent benefits, though existing union collective bargaining agreements would be exempt.
Low-wage workers often do not have access to the same benefits as higher-paid members of the workforce. Advocates say one-third of Minnesota workers — about 900,000 people — don’t have any paid time off. The bill passed the House 68-64, with two DFLers joining Republicans in opposition. The next stop is in the Senate, which like the House, is controlled by DFLers.
DFL majority leaders in the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz say creating a state paid leave program is a priority. If Walz signs the bill into law, Minnesota will join 11 states and the District of Columbia in requiring employers to offer the benefit.
In the House bill, Minnesota’s program would be seeded by $668 million from the record $17.5 billion budget surplus. Ongoing funding would come from a new 0.7% payroll tax split between employers and employees. It’s initially expected to create an additional $1.5 billion a year in taxes. Past estimates found workers would pay about $3 extra in taxes each week.
Critics say that with a record surplus, the state should focus on tax relief rather than creating new tax-funded mandates. Groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce worry the costs could end up being much higher than initially estimated.
New taxes are just one potential problem opponents raise. There’d also be growth in state government and added regulations. To administer the program, Minnesota would create a new state office and hire hundreds of employees.
Republicans and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce also say they’re worried about a “one-size-fits-all” approach to paid leave for businesses ranging from mom-and-pops to Fortune 500 companies. Businesses that do not offer paid leave through the Minnesota program can opt out if they offer the same or better benefits. There is also a reduced premium for businesses with 30 or fewer employees.
GOP lawmakers oppose a mandate or program run by the state but acknowledge that many Minnesotans want paid family and medical leave. In response, they’ve floated an alternative proposal that would create a private option for paid leave. That proposal would allow insurers to sell leave plans to businesses, which the state doesn’t currently allow. Proponents argue the arrangement would allow businesses to provide paid leave while avoiding higher taxes and administrative costs.
A companion paid family and medical leave bill sponsored by Sen. Alice Mann, DFL-Edina, awaits a vote of the full Senate. The House moves first on bills that contain taxes. Mann’s bill differs from the House bill in several ways, including a 20-week cap on total paid time off in a year. The House version will have a cap of 18, Richardson said. In previous versions of the bill, an employee would be able to take up to 24 full weeks off with pay. Those differences and the appropriation discrepancy — $668 million in the House and $1.7 billion in the Senate version — would have to get ironed out in a conference committee and voted on once again in both chambers before they’d go to the governor’s desk.
Lawmakers have until May 22 to wrap up their work.