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Tax-Funded 16-Week Paid Leave Bill Has DC Democrats Divided

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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The Washington, D.C. Council is pushing forward with a bill that provides tax-funded paid family leave for up to 16 weeks, but District Democrats are at odds over the controversial legislation.

The Democratic-controlled Council is largely behind the measure and received key support last week from Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who agreed it was worth the increased tax on local employers. The proposal, called the Universal Paid Leave Act, allows 16 weeks of paid leave to deal with medical conditions, child birth, caring for sick loved ones or to recover from an illness, reports WTOP.

“It can help businesses in attracting employees, help businesses in retaining employees,” Mendelson said at a Thursday hearing. “This is a question of what can we do to make the District an attractive place to work, which in turn makes the District an attractive place for businesses.”

Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser is very critical of the the plan and is poised to oppose its potential implementation. Bowser also reprimanded Mendelson at the hearing for failing to include her office in the details of the bill, reports The Washington Post.

The legislation would have a maximum weekly cost of $3,000 an individual. Eligible employees would be given 100 percent of weekly wages up to $1,000 and 50 percent of wages over that level. The measure would be paid for by a 1 percent increase in the payroll tax, despite independent research and analysis from the city’s chief financial officer concluding it will not cover the costs.

“We already have pretty robust leave allowances for the D.C. government, including 8 weeks of paid leave,” Bowser said in a December interview with the DCist. “We frankly are trying to get a hold of the impact of the 8 week program on D.C. government services. So, I think that there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Mendelson also proposed a scaled back version of the legislation as an option that reduces leave to 12 weeks and reimburses employees 90 percent of wages up to twice the minimum wage with maximum weekly compensation at $1,500 an individual. Under this plan, individuals making up to $118,00 a year would still be eligible to receive 66 percent of their salary for 12 weeks of leave, reports The Washington Post.

Council Democrats remain hesitant to limit the duration the original draft of the legislation provides.

 “My fear is the more we narrow it, the more we will have to come back and fix it,” said Council member David Grosso.

Business leaders remain unconvinced of the proposal, particularly because it places the majority of the burden on the employer. Many acknowledged the potential draw the bill could create for new employees in the District, but were cautious about the details of the plan, reports WTOP.

“It is crucial that if this program suffers deficient funding that the burden does not fall on the business community,” said Kathy Hollinger, president of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. “Because the true cost of the program is unknown, so is the true cost to business.”

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