Dozens of supporters of a controversial proposal for the nation’s most generous family-leave law, including parents, small-business owners and union members, urged city lawmakers Tuesday to pass the measure supported by a majority of the D.C. Council.
“We’re here for all of the obvious reasons,” said Jamie Smith, of the Chevy Chase neighborhood, who had her 10-month-old son, Adam, bouncing on her lap at Tuesday’s council meeting at the Wilson Building. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Seven of the council’s 13 members co-introduced the proposed law Tuesday that would give every D.C. resident as much as 16 weeks of paid family leave.
The measure, developed with the help of the Obama administration, would allow residents to take paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a terminally ill relative, or for just about any life-changing event in between.
The broad new benefit would be paid for by a tax on D.C. employers of up to 1 percent of employees’ salaries. Business leaders warned that could be hurtful and put them at a competitive disadvantage regionally, but D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) moved to streamline a review of the proposed law, keeping it before his committee and therefore one step from a councilwide vote.
One word of caution came from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who, absent a veto-proof majority on the council, would have to sign off on the plan.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Bowser spokesman Michael Czin said the mayor appreciates the idea but is worried about the fiscal effect on the city.
“We support the sentiment,” Czin said, “but we have concerns about the fiscal impact on District government.”
The District began this year offering city employees eight weeks of paid family leave, and Czin said the new benefit had proved “complicated” to carry out. The administration could not immediately provide figures for how many employees have used the leave.
In introducing the measure, council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said a larger benefit to society was at stake.
“Investing in the lives of our families will benefit the lives of all of our residents,” he said. “This bill will help workers take the time they need to help support their families, to keep them from having to make the hard choice between a paycheck and a loved one’s immediate needs.”
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), however, said that after increasing sick leave and other benefits for D.C. employees, the city risked putting undue stress on businesses. “Each of the things we’ve done have had merit on their own but collectively have become a problem. This would be another cost on top of all of the other costs,” he said.
Sharon Goldtzvik, a small-business owner in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing, disagreed. She said the proposal would allow her to offer her employees a benefit she could never afford without a larger citywide fund to defray the costs.
“This will make it easier for me to hire someone,” she said.