D.C. Coun­cil OKs fam­ily leave bill with veto-proof vote

Bowser re­fuses to sign $250-mil­lion-a-year ini­tia­tive

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT

The D.C. Coun­cil on Tues­day gave fi­nal ap­proval to leg­is­la­tion that would cre­ate the na­tion’s most gen­er­ous paid fam­ily leave pro­gram, send­ing the bill to Mayor Muriel Bowser to sign into law.

With a veto-proof ma­jor­ity, city law­mak­ers voted 9-4 to pass the Univer­sal Paid Leave Amend­ment Act of 2016. It would pro­vide 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 per­sonal med­i­cal needs.

It is es­ti­mated to cost $250 mil­lion a year and will be funded via a 0.62 per­cent pay­roll tax on about 8,000 city busi­nesses.

“I will not add my name to this leg­is­la­tion,” Miss Bowser said, in­di­cat­ing she likely will al­low the bill to be­come law with­out her sig­na­ture.

The Demo­cratic mayor had given tepid sup­port to an al­ter­na­tive bill that would have di­rected em­ploy­ers to fund their own paid leave plans, but stopped short of threat­en­ing to veto the pay­roll tax plan.

“Ev­ery busi­ness, re­gard­less of size or abil­ity, will be able to of­fer paid leave,” said coun­cil Chair­man Phil Men­del­son, at-large Demo­crat. “The only way to do that is through a tax.”

But the vote be­lies the coun­cil’s strug­gle over fund­ing the pro­gram dur­ing the past few days. On one side was a busi­ness-friendly em­ployer man­date that would leave it to busi­nesses to fund and im­ple­ment on their own pro­grams. On the other side was a la­bor-friendly ver­sion that would be funded through a pay­roll tax and ad­min­is­tered by the city.

For hours Tues­day morn­ing, coun­cil fac­tions, may­oral rep­re­sen­ta­tives, busi­ness own­ers and paid-leave ad­vo­cates lob­bied in the halls of the fifth floor of the Wil­son Build­ing. On the dais in the af­ter­noon, the de­bate got heated as ad­vo­cates from both sides erupted into ap­plause in the coun­cil chamber.

Ul­ti­mately, swing votes cast by Demo­cratic coun­cil mem­bers Anita Bonds, at-large Demo­crat, and Kenyan Duffie, Ward 5 Demo­crat, de­feated the em­ployer man­date al­ter­na­tive, pav­ing the way for pas­sage of the pay­roll tax plan.

“I have restau­rants [in Ward 5] on both sides of this is­sue. This is not a per­fect sys­tem. It’s un­prece­dented,” Mr. McDuffie said. “What’s lost in this de­bate is that you have a leg­is­la­ture who is work­ing ex­tremely hard to es­tab­lish a sys­tem of paid leave.”

Ms. Bonds said it was an in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to choose be­tween the pay­roll tax plan and the em­ployer man­date model.

LaRuby May, Ward 8 Demo­crat; Bran­don T. Todd, Ward 4 Demo­crat; Yvette Alexan­der, Ward 7 Demo­crat; and Jack Evans, Ward 2 Demo­crat voted against the fi­nal ver­sion of the bill.

The city will have to cre­ate an agency to ad­min­is­ter the pro­gram — an es­ti­mated cost of $80 mil­lion. Un­der the paid-leave pro­gram, work­ers earn­ing less than 1½ times the min­i­mum wage would re­ceive 90 per­cent of their wages per week, and those earn­ing more than that would get 50 per­cent of their wages up to $1,000 per week.

Work­ers in the Dis­trict will have to wait un­til about 2020 to use the pro­gram. The city will need at least a year to cre­ate the agency to ad­min­is­ter claims and an­other year to col­lect enough in pay­roll tax rev­enue to fill the fund.

Some coun­cil mem­bers wor­ried that too much money would go to work­ers who are em­ployed in the Dis­trict but live in Mary­land and Vir­ginia.

Of the Dis­trict’s 531,999 work­ers, about 195,000 also 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.

“It is wrong to raise Dis­trict taxes to fund a costly new gov­ern­ment pro­gram that sends 66 per­cent of the ben­e­fits out­side of the city and leaves Dis­trict fam­i­lies be­hind,” Miss Bowser said. “I pre­dict the coun­cil will need to re­visit this leg­is­la­tion and ad­dress the detri­men­tal im­pacts on Dis­trict res­i­dents and small busi­nesses.”

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