Maine would become the 12th state to approve a paid family and medical leave benefit for workers statewide if a proposal passes the state House and Senate and is signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills.
State Democratic lawmakers have stepped up lobbying efforts on the topic in recent weeks.
The federal government passed a law 30 years ago to make family leave from work an unpaid benefit, but efforts to establish paid family leave have so far failed at the federal level. So states are now starting to enact their own paid family leave laws.
In New England, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island already have paid family leave on the books. Other states that have approved paid family leave include New York, California, Oregon, Washington, Maryland, Delaware, Colorado and New Jersey. The District of Columbia also has mandated paid family leave. Democrats hold majorities in the Maine Senate and House as well as the governor’s office, giving the policy a greater chance of passing. Republicans have generally been more reluctant to approve expansions in the social safety net.
Maine Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, and State Rep. Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston, are spearheading an intense lobbying effort along with the Maine Paid Family Leave Coalition.
While there is no organized opposition so far, the potential cost to large employers and the impact on the state’s worker shortage are being watched closely in the business community.
The specifics of the proposal have yet to be finalized, but discussions by the Legislature’s Paid Family Leave Commission have centered on 12 weeks of payouts at 80% to 90% of wages, capped at 120% of the state’s median weekly wage.
To fund the benefit, the commission has recommended a range of options for lawmakers to consider, including up to a 1% payroll tax that would be split anywhere from 25% paid by the employer and 75% by the employee to an even 50% split between employer and employee.
States that have already approved a paid family leave program have adopted a wide range of ways to fund it, but generally pay for it with payroll taxes from 0.5% to 1.1%. Benefits also range from 60% of wages to 90%, generally for 12 weeks.
In Maine, the commission has agreed that small businesses of 15 or fewer workers should be exempt from participating, although they would be allowed to opt into the program. All employees, even self-employed workers, could receive the benefit, even if their employer is exempt and not opting into the program.
Initial estimates projected about 40,000 to 50,000 Mainers would take advantage of the paid leave benefit per year, according to an analysis by Milliman consulting. The Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Women’s Lobby – progressive advocacy groups that will be touting the issue at Tuesday’s State House events – had gathered signatures to place the issue on the November ballot, but decided instead to see what lawmakers will do.
Mills has yet to take a stand on the topic, but approved spending $300,000 for analysts to study the issue to help the commission’s efforts.