Lawmaker revives bill to give state workers paid family leave

Measure would grant three weeks of parental leave to nearly 250,000 Georgia employees
State Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, is bringing back a proposal that the House approved last year to give state employees three weeks of parental leave.

State Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, is bringing back a proposal that the House approved last year to give state employees three weeks of parental leave.

A Republican state legislator reintroduced legislation Wednesday that would offer three weeks of paid parental leave to a quarter-million state employees, including k-12 teachers, for the first time in Georgia history.

Rep. Houston Gaines, R-Athens, said his plan largely mirrors a proposal he introduced last spring that cruised through the House on a vote of 164-1, only to stall in the Senate during the closing moments of the legislative session.

The bill, House Bill 146, would grant three weeks of paid parental leave to 246,000 state staffers, including 132,000 k-12 educators and 46,000 University System of Georgia employees, following the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.

“This is the right thing to do at the right time,” Gaines said in an interview.

Georgia has long ranked among the bottom of states in terms of paid leave benefits.

Currently, state employees qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the minimum required under federal law. When Georgians welcome a new child into their family, many workers cobble together vacation days, short-term disability and other leave if they’d like to take time off.

The issue was once considered a Democratic priority, but some Republicans have embraced it in recent years — especially after it was backed by the Trump administration. Gaines’ proposal was endorsed last year by Ivanka Trump, and many in the GOP saw it as a way to win over suburban women who were defecting to the Democratic Party.

The legislation would have no impact on private companies, which have broad leeway to set their own parental leave policies in Georgia. It was quickly endorsed, however, by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, which helped study the need for such programs in a report called “Opportunities Lost.”

“We’ve seen the long-term benefits to our economy of adopting such policies through our research in ‘Opportunities Lost,’ which showed the state is losing billions of dollars in economic activity due to lack of access to quality, affordable child care,” said Tim Cairl, director for education policy at the chamber. “We strongly support the passage of paid family leave for Georgia families.”

Many of the state’s biggest corporations and tech startups have ramped up family leave options in recent years to lure and retain top talent. Others offer relatively little by way of parental benefits, especially for fathers.

Gaines’ House district includes part of the University of Georgia and is home to many professors and staffers who’d benefit from the proposal. The second-term lawmaker said the bill sends a strong message to younger Georgians that state leaders — and the GOP — value them.

“If we’re not looking at younger folks on a lot of these issues, we’re going to lose them,” he said. “We’re going to lose them to other states, and for the Republican Party, we’re going to lose them in terms of voters. So we’ve got to do everything we can.”

GOP leaders granted similar benefits early last year to full-time employees of the Georgia House and Senate.

Under Gaines’ bill, state employees would be eligible for parental leave after six months of full-time employment. Both mothers and fathers could take advantage of the benefit.