Paid family leave bill proves di­vi­sive for D.C. Coun­cil

Bill ap­proved in 11-2 vote over fierce op­po­si­tion


A paid family leave bill has ex­posed deep di­vi­sions among the mostly Demo­cratic D.C. Coun­cil, which gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval to the leg­is­la­tion on Tues­day.

The lat­est re­vi­sion of the Univer­sal Paid Leave Act of 2015 now of­fers eight weeks of leave for caring for a new­born or newly adopted child, six weeks for tend­ing to a sick rel­a­tive and two weeks for tak­ing care of one’s per­sonal med­i­cal needs — a freshly re­vived pro­vi­sion.

The coun­cil voted 11-2 in ap­prov­ing the bill, which would cre­ate the na­tion’s most gen­er­ous pro­gram of its kind at an es­ti­mated cost of $250 mil­lion a year. Coun­cil mem­bers Jack Evans and Yvette Alexan­der voted against the mea­sure.

But the near-una­nim­ity of the vote be­lies sharp dif­fer­ences among the coun­cil. Five law­mak­ers of­fered fierce op­po­si­tion ear­lier Tues­day, say­ing the leg­is­la­tion is un­fair to D.C. busi­nesses and most of the paid leave benefits would go to city work­ers who live in the sub­urbs.

“I just think it’s un­con­scionable when we sit around this ta­ble, and we have pro­gres­sive thoughts around how we help the folk in Ward 8, and yet we’re still okay with send­ing so much money out­side the Dis­trict,” Coun­cil mem­ber LaRuby May said Tues­day at the law­mak­ers’ break­fast.

The Ward 8 Demo­crat was joined by Mr. Evans, Miss Alexan­der, Anita Bonds and Bran­don Todd in speak­ing out against the bill. The coun­cil mem­bers re­ferred to sta­tis­tics cited by Mayor Muriel Bowser show­ing that hun­dreds of thou­sands of res­i­dents in Mary­land and Vir­ginia would ben­e­fit from the paid leave mea­sure.

Of the Dis­trict’s 531,999 work­ers, about 195,000 ac­tu­ally live in the city. Em­ploy­ment sta­tis­tics show that 201,981 live in Mary­land and 134,192 in Vir­ginia, mean­ing nearly two-thirds of the city’s work­force would re­ceive and likely spend paid leave benefits out­side the Dis­trict.

“I care very lit­tle about helping some­one in Vir­ginia pay their rent,” Ms. May said Tues­day af­ter­noon on the dais. “I care about the Dis­trict of Columbia res­i­dents and very specif­i­cally I care about the res­i­dents and busi­ness of Ward 8.”

Mr. Evans called the pro­posal “ab­surd.” The Ward 2 Demo­crat of­fered a slew of amend­ments Tues­day be­fore the vote, say­ing no one had time to comment on the lat­est ver­sion of the bill, which was cir­cu­lated late last week. One amend­ment would have al­lowed busi­nesses to fund paid leave on their own through pri­vate in­sur­ance.

“I don’t know if the chair­man looked at [the amend­ment] or not. All I know is that I never had the abil­ity to present the op­tion. We should have had a pub­lic hear­ing af­ter the [new draft] was re­leased,” Mr. Evans said.

Miss Alexan­der, Ward 7 Demo­crat, asked why the Dis­trict should have to foot the bill for work­ers liv­ing out­side city lim­its.

“Vir­ginia would not be ad­vo­cat­ing for 60 per­cent of Dis­trict res­i­dents. Mary­land would not be ad­vo­cat­ing for 60 per­cent of Dis­trict res­i­dents,” she said. “I want 100 per­cent of our res­i­dents to ben­e­fit.”

But the op­po­nents said they were re­signed that the leg­is­la­tion would pass.

“We are go­ing to pass some­thing to­day that is fraught with prob­lems,” Mr. Evans said be­fore the vote.

The paid leave pro­gram would be funded via a 0.62 per­cent pay­roll tax on about 8,000 city busi­nesses and is es­ti­mated to cost $250 mil­lion a year. It would ap­ply to all pri­vate-sec­tor em­ploy­ees work­ing in the city re­gard­less of where they re­side.

Only Cal­i­for­nia, New Jersey and Rhode Is­land cur­rently au­tho­rize paid leave; New York state will start im­ple­ment­ing a pro­gram in 2018.

The D.C. Coun­cil must vote a sec­ond time on the leg­is­la­tion this month be­fore it can be sent to Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has not ex­pressed sup­port for the bill.

“The bill is still go­ing through the leg­isla­tive process. Once that con­cludes the Mayor will re­view and make a fi­nal de­ci­sion on if this is some­thing she can sup­port,” Bowser spokesman Kevin Har­ris said Tues­day in an email.

A may­oral veto would re­quire a twothirds vote in the coun­cil to over­ride it.

Pro-la­bor ad­vo­cates hailed the coun­cil’s vote as a big win.

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