Lawmakers propose creation of Ohio’s first paid family leave insurance program

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Ohio lawmakers are saying that Ohioans should not have to choose between having a job and a child, but not all business owners say it is that cut and dry.

"Currently, employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or medical leave, but as we know most families cannot afford unpaid leave," State Representative Christie Kuhns (D-Cincinnati) said.

Representatives Kuhns and Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights) introduced a proposal today to create Ohio’s first-ever paid family and medical leave insurance program.

The bill would allow all Ohio workers to continue earning a portion of their pay during a family medical emergency or the birth or adoption of a new baby.

According to a 2015 report by Innovation Ohio, access to paid leave policies can help reduce gender and economic disparities, increase worker productivity, strengthen regional economies and improve critical health outcomes such as reducing infant mortality rates.

The report noted that access to paid leave has decreased deaths in the first month of life by 2.6 percent and in the first year of life of life by 4.1 percent.

“As Ohio continues to lose more babies before their first birthday than almost every other state in the nation, paid family leave is a thoroughly pro-life policy that will have positive health impacts for women and children,” Rep. Boyd said. “Putting families first means giving parents and babies time to recover, adjust to new routines, access follow-up medical care and bond without the fear of economic insecurity. Doing so will lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive Ohio.”

The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program would allow workers with qualifying life events– from Ohio’s smallest businesses to the largest corporations –the ability to continue earning a portion of their salary when taking leave from work for a serious health condition, a family member with a serious health condition or to care for a the birth or adoption of a new child.

The bill is modeled after legislation that was introduced in Colorado, which requires employees to pay premiums into a fund through a paycheck deduction to be administered by their employer.

In order to be eligible for the proposed benefits,  "An individual must have filed a claim, must have worked 680 hours during the base period, premiums must have been remitted and withheld for at least one year." Rep. Kuhns said.

Essentially it would be like an added tax. The bill requires employees to pay premiums, estimated to be about a 50 cent deduction per paycheck, into a state fund.

Tom Johnston, President of The Basement Doctor in Central Ohio, understands the importance of family leave, but also sees the flip side for small business owners. He says if he was voting for the bill, he wouldn't vote in favor.

"The consequence of that is how do you fill that hole? You either have to hire somebody else which causes additional expense, or you have to put a larger workload on the people who are there. Either case, that's usually not a good option," Johnston said.

This bill is being introduced by Democratic Reps and has yet to be reviewed on the other side of the aisle. The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not require some form of guaranteed, legally protected paid parental leave.

New York State passed the most robust paid family leave law in the country last week, providing partial compensation during 12 weeks of approved leave. Other states that have adopted paid family leave laws are California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington. In Ohio, Dayton and Cincinnati have both passed paid leave policies that cover city workers.