Georgia House GOP leaders back paid parental leave for state workers

Georgia’s Capitol

Georgia’s Capitol

Georgia House GOP leaders unveiled a bill Tuesday that would grant three weeks of paid parental leave to nearly 250,000 state employees, extending the popular benefit to k-12 teachers, University System of Georgia staffers and other new parents for the first time in the state’s history.

Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, announced House Bill 1094 during a press conference with Speaker David Ralston and roughly a dozen Republican House committee chairmen.

“We must remain competitive with the private sector and keep our best and brightest employees,” Gaines said.

The legislation comes two months after the House gave three weeks of paid parental leave to its roughly 95 full-time employees. A similar initiative for state Senate staffers followed shortly after that. HB 1094 would extend that policy to 246,000 state staffers, including 132,000 k-12 educators and 46,000 University System of Georgia employees.

Currently, state employees qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, as required under federal law.

“This legislation is going to directly impact the lives of so many constituents who are starting families in my district,” said Gaines, who represents a competitive district near the University of Georgia that’s flipped twice since 2017.

Gaines’ bill would not affect private companies.

The median length of paid parental leave offered to full-time employees in the U.S. is three weeks, according to a study by the nonprofit human resources group World at Work and funded by the human resources company Mercer.

Read more: Parental paid leave makes inroads in Georgia after years of resistance

Georgia has long ranked among the bottom of states requiring paid leave benefits, but top officials have showed a new willingness to consider perks for new parents over the past year as national politics have shifted on the issue.

President Donald Trump campaigned on paid family leave in 2016 and, at the urging of his daughter and adviser Ivanka, became the first president to propose funding for it in his budget request to Congress. In December, lawmakers on Capitol Hill struck a landmark agreement to extend the benefit to more than 2 million civilian federal employees for 12 weeks after a child is born or adopted.

Polls show the vast majority of Americans support paid leave for new parents but differ on how to such programs should be designed. It’s created a rift among conservatives who want to support strong families but worry about the price tag and government mandates.

Many of Atlanta's largest corporations, including Coca-Cola and Home Depot, offer at least some parental benefits, as do the city of Atlanta and many tech startups. But there is no Georgia law requiring private employers to offer paid parental leave to their employees, and companies have broad leeway to set their own policies. Most Georgia workers must take unpaid time off — or cobble together vacation days, short-term disability and other leave — when they welcome a new child into their family.

Ralston said he hopes businesses will follow the state’s lead if the bill passes.

“Our goal is not to dictate to the private sector what they should and shouldn’t be doing, because that’s not consistent with what any of us up here believe,” Ralston said. “But hopefully they will take inspiration from us.”