Maine would become the 12th state to approve a paid family and medical leave benefit for workers statewide if a proposal clears the state House and Senate and is signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills.

State Democratic lawmakers have stepped up lobbying efforts on the topic in recent weeks and are joining with advocates to organize a “Day of Action” at the State House on Tuesday.

The federal government passed a law 30 years ago to make family leave from work an unpaid benefit, but efforts to establish paid family leave have so far failed at the federal level. So states are now starting to enact their own paid family leave laws.

In New England, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island already have paid family leave on the books. Other states that have approved paid family leave include New York, California, Oregon, Washington, Maryland, Delaware, Colorado and New Jersey. The District of Columbia also has mandated paid family leave. Democrats hold majorities in the Maine Senate and House as well as the governor’s office, giving the policy a greater chance of passing. Republicans have generally been more reluctant to approve expansions in the social safety net.

Maine Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, and State Rep. Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston, are spearheading an intense lobbying effort along with the Maine Paid Family Leave Coalition.

Sherry Leiwant, co-president and co-founder of A Better Balance, a New York-based advocacy group that analyzes and promotes paid family leave policies, said Maine is among a handful of states that have a good chance of approving family leave bills this year.


“There’s a lot going on. There’s been a lot of progress in Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico,” Leiwant said. “There are other states where people are talking about this, like in Illinois.”

Brian Duff, a political science professor at the University of New England, said if Democrats get paid family leave across the finish line this session, he believes it would prove very popular. Paid family leave is difficult to attack politically because large swaths of the population would stand to benefit, Duff said, including expecting parents and those who need to care for an elderly parent or sick relative.

“It’s a savvy political move,” Duff said. “It’s a hard policy to demonize.”

While there is no organized opposition so far, the potential cost to large employers and the impact on the state’s worker shortage are being watched closely in the business community.

The specifics of the proposal have yet to be finalized, but discussions by the Legislature’s Paid Family Leave Commission have centered on 12 weeks of payouts at 80% to 90% of wages, capped at 120% of the state’s median weekly wage.

To fund the benefit, the commission has recommended a range of options for lawmakers to consider, including up to a 1% payroll tax that would be split anywhere from 25% paid by the employer and 75% by the employee to an even 50% split between employer and employee.


States that have already approved a paid family leave program have adopted a wide range of ways to fund it, but generally pay for it with payroll taxes from 0.5% to 1.1%. Benefits also range from 60% of wages to 90%, generally for 12 weeks.

In Maine, the commission has agreed that small businesses of 15 or fewer workers should be exempt from participating, although they would be allowed to opt into the program. All employees, even self-employed workers, could receive the benefit, even if their employer is exempt and not opting into the program.

Initial estimates projected about 40,000 to 50,000 Mainers would take advantage of the paid leave benefit per year, according to an analysis by Milliman consulting. The Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Women’s Lobby – progressive advocacy groups that will be touting the issue at Tuesday’s State House events – had gathered signatures to place the issue on the November ballot, but decided instead to see what lawmakers will do.

Mills has yet to take a stand on the topic, but approved spending $300,000 for analysts to study the issue to help the commission’s efforts.

“The governor understands the importance of paid family leave, and she believes it is important that discussions before the legislature take into consideration the landscape of Maine’s economy and the perspective of Maine employers, particularly small businesses,” said Ben Goodman, a Mills spokesman, in a statement. “She looks forward to reviewing the commission’s report and engaging with the legislature in the months ahead.”

Duff said that despite the fact that Mills has not said she would sign a bill, “it’s inconceivable to me that Gov. Mills would not get on board with this if the Legislature passes it.”


Michael Fern, a spokesman for Maine Senate Republicans, said the caucus does not yet have any comment on the various proposals because there is no specific bill yet.

Peter Gore, a spokesman for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has not taken a position on the issue yet, in part because there’s no specific proposal. But, he said, any proposal should take into account the state’s lack of workers.

“We still have a workforce shortage, and we have plenty of employers who are short employees,” Gore said. “You’re still going to have to run a hotel, build a widget and deliver a service with fewer employees.”

Gore said anytime an employee takes a paid family leave benefit, unless the business can find temporary workers, the work is going to have to be redistributed among the remaining employees.

“People don’t want to hear about that, but employers are very concerned,” Gore said.

But Leiwant, of A Better Balance, said paid family leave helps with worker retention.

“If you have a happier workforce, they are likelier to stay,” Leiwant said. “There’s not going to be a dramatic change in worker availability. It’s a question of whether you want to support people who really need to take the time off.”

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