DC City Council Passes Controversial Family Leave Bill

DC City Council Passes Controversial Family Leave Bill

A bill to provide guaranteed paid parental, caregiving, and sick leave to employees in the district passed in the Washington, DC, city council on Tuesday over the objections of Mayor Muriel Bowser and business groups, the Washington Post’s Peter Jamison reports:

The bill, which passed by a veto-proof margin of 9 to 4, guarantees eight weeks of paid time off to new parents, six weeks to workers caring for ailing family members and two weeks of personal sick time. To pay for it, the city will levy a new 0.62 percent payroll tax on employers small and large to generate $250 million annually, which will be distributed by a new arm of the city government.

The tax triggered an intense lobbying campaign in the past week, led by major employers in the city as well as the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Federal City Council. Those groups argued that the city should simply mandate that employers provide paid leave and allow them to decide how to finance it.

The mandate, while popular among the public, has been fiercely debated since it was introduced last year, particularly concerning how much it would cost and who would pay for it. Even some supporters of the bill, Jamison notes, are unsure of how successful it will be:

Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who cast one of the deciding votes for the bill, struck a somber note amid the jubilation of the bill’s backers, saying he still had questions about both paid-leave proposals and that the law he ultimately chose to support would need to be refined over the next several years before being implemented.

“It’s going to be a serious tax with serious consequences to our business community,” McDuffie said. “The bottom line is, there’s going to be some serious work that needs to be done.”

At the Atlantic, Alexia Fernández Campbell looks over a report released earlier this month by the DC budget office, which claimed that a family leave mandate would likely have a negligible impact on job growth and the local economy:

The report found that a slightly older version of the plan—offering 11 weeks of leave with a payroll-tax increase of 0.62 percent—would have a minimal effect on the District’s economy over the next 10 years. The District could lose as much as $15 million in GDP during the decade, or it could gain up $122 million. Even at the extremes, those outcomes are just a fraction of the $28 billion in economic growth currently projected during that time. Among the other findings were that the law would slightly slow down job growth, costing the District anywhere from 90 to 1,300 new jobs in the next decade, which could result from businesses hiring less or moving out of the city. But even in the worst-case scenario, that number is also only a fraction of the 87,000 new jobs the District is expected to create during that time.

The report also looked at surveys of business managers in states that have passed similar paid leave laws—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—which mostly showed that the laws had positive effects on business or negligible negative impacts. New York State plans to implement mandatory family leave starting in 2018, and San Francisco passed a local law earlier this year, to be phased in gradually starting in January, providing all new parents six weeks’ leave at full pay (California’s statewide mandate provides for just 55 percent of pay).