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.