Parents and children at a D.C. Council hearing on a paid family leave bill in October. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

D.C. COUNCIL members rejected out of hand Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s (D) sensible suggestion of a task force to come up with recommendations on how to provide paid family leave to people who work in the District. Instead, they are forging ahead with another hearing. Because the original proposal to offer 16 weeks of paid leave was unworkable, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) is preparing his own plan. Let’s hope he comes up with something that is fiscally responsible and targeted to helping D.C. residents with the greatest need. Such a plan is within reach.

The proposal unveiled in the fall, and backed by a majority of the council, would have made the District the most generous place in the country for a worker to have time off to tend to a new baby, care for an ailing parent or recover from an illness. Nearly every part-time and full-time employee would be covered; some would receive 100 percent of their salaries. If enacted, the benefits, The Post’s Aaron C. Davis reported, would dwarf family-leave assistance in all 50 states. They would be financed by a tax on employers. Three states have enacted family leave laws and the maximum benefit, in New Jersey and California, is six weeks of partial paid leave.

In getting behind the plan, council members seemed to have forgotten the trouble the District got into not that long ago by layering on one ill-conceived program after another. That the plan is pure fiscal folly was made clear at a council hearing last month in which D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt and a researcher for the liberal Urban Institute warned of substantial costs and underestimates of revenue.

Helping workers get time off to deal with family matters is a desirable goal and one the District is right to pursue. But certain principles need to guide its establishment. Foremost is who actually needs coverage. Many companies already offer leave packages to their employees; imposing a tax on those companies would penalize them or encourage them to withdraw benefits. We also wonder why D.C. lawmakers, who perennially rail about non-D.C. resident workers freeloading off the city, would include them in this benefit. It would make sense to target the program at D.C. residents who are without recourse.

How to pay for the program also needs careful study. What can the city afford? What can employers in the D.C. market bear without becoming less competitive? Will this come at the expense of other initiatives? And is the D.C. government, known to stumble when it comes to execution, capable of administering the program? Not easy questions to answer, which is even more reason the council should reconsider the mayor’s suggestion for more careful study of this complicated issue.