Will Florida Paid Family Leave Act Get A Hearing This Session? Backers Say Negotiations Possible

Jan 31, 2020

Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis is backing a bill that would force employers in Florida to offer three months of paid family leave to employees who have just had a child, adopted a child or had a child placed in their foster care.
Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM

When a child is born, the first months spent with parents can be crucial for development. A bill in Florida’s House and Senate looks to give parents with a newborn paid time off from work – but not everyone is sold on it.

“The United States is the only country in the developed world that does not have some form of paid family leave,” said Rep. Dotie Joseph, a sponsor of the House measure. She’s among the Florida Democratic lawmakers who want parents who have just had a baby, adopted a child or had a child placed in their foster care to have three months off from work.

House and Senate bills look to force employers to allow for family leave without threat of firing or demotion.

“Last year, I sponsored this legislation,” Joseph said during a press conference this week. “And I will tell you that I was frustrated. And I’ll tell you the reason I was frustrated, it’s because, as you’ve heard, this is not a black or a white issue, this is not a Democrat or Republican issue, this is a people issue.”

Joseph is hoping her bill will get a hearing this year, though neither the House nor Senate measure have been scheduled. The Senate’s version is being carried by Tampa Democratic Senator Janet Cruz.

Joseph stood alongside Democratic lawmakers and clergy with the organization Faith in Public Life to make a push for the legislation.

“If we claim that we care about family values, and we claim that we care about the building block that is the family,” Joseph said, “what is the starting point, if not children?”

The bill applies to employees who work 20 or more hours per week, and employers who have a minimum of 15 employees. And the measure would make employers subject to fines if they don’t make a notice of the family leave policy visible to employees. The bill’s backers were asked about the business lobby’s argument that giving three months off would ultimately hurt small business.

Rep. Tracie Davis says she’s heard from business owners who feel the opposite.

“The other side of that is, we’ve also heard from business owners of small businesses that applaud this legislation,” Davis told reporters. “So, there’s two sides to every story and the other side is, we have businesses that wholeheartedly support this bill.”

The proposal’s language states its purpose is to make Florida laws on the matter more current. It says “The need for paid family leave has increased as the participation of both parents in the workforce has increased and the number of single parents has grown.”

Still, Davis indicated Republican leadership isn’t sold on the bill.

“The way this legislation is written now, they’re not willing to entertain it. But if, again, we can come to the table like my colleague said, there are conversations to be had,” Davis said.

Joseph, who is an employment lawyer, says negotiations are possible.

“There are ways that we can do it. Sometimes there are ways where employees contribute their time, their excess leave time, into a pool – so it costs their employees nothing extra,” Joseph said. “There are lots of creative ways to do it, if there’s a will to do so. And we are happy to have those conversations.”

In December, President Donald Trump signed an expansion of the National Defense Authorization Act that will provide paid family leave for federal civilian employees. Set to go into effect in October of this year, it will apply after the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child.

Rev. Joe Paramore is with the organization Faith in Public Life.

“If the white house can extend these benefits to federal employees, then Florida can extend these benefits to its families and to its citizens,” Paramore said.

Paramore is pushing for the legislation to have a shot at getting passed this session:

“There’s no substitute for the bonding that is done during the time immediately following a new child, either by birth or by adoption.”

Both the House and Senate measures would take effect in July of this year.