Paid Parental Leave Act Passes House, but Faces Veto Threat

By Simone Baribeau
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008

A bill to enhance parental leave benefits for federal employees passed the House by a wide margin yesterday, despite a White House veto threat.

Under the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, federal and congressional employees would receive four weeks of paid parental leave after birth or adoption, or taking in a foster a child. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) would have the discretion to grant an additional four weeks of paid leave.

Employees could still use accrued vacation days as part of their parental leave, and the bill would make it easier to use sick leave to care for a new child by eliminating the current requirement to demonstrate medical need.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), who authored the bill, described it as the first expansion of parental leave benefits since the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993. The bill had 21 sponsors, including one Republican, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.).

The House voted 278 to 146 for passage, with 50 Republicans voting for and one Democrat voting against it.

The bill still faces significant roadblocks. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate this week, but it's unclear when the bill will make it to the floor.

And the White House threatened to veto the bill, calling it a "costly, unnecessary, new paid leave entitlement."

The OPM had sent an alternate proposal to Capitol Hill in March that would allow federal employees to buy short-term disability coverage, but the coverage couldn't apply to fathers or adoptive parents to care for new children.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the expanded benefits would cost $850 million between the second half of 2009 and 2013 -- about $105 per federal employee per year.

Proponents of the bill argue that the paid parental leave could save the federal government recruiting and retention expenses.

Only 8 percent of private-sector employees have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"This measure . . . says to employees, 'We care about you and your family. We want you to stay with us,' " Davis said in a statement. "But it's more than a recruitment and retention tool. It's a matter of fairness."

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