Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday proposed six weeks of paid leave for all new parents employed by the state, saying the bonding between newborns and their mothers and fathers “is just crucial.”
Over 35,000 state employees would be eligible for the benefit, which the governor described as key to building a more productive and successful workforce.
His proposal stops short of measures in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island that mandate paid family leave for all workers, not just government employees. Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, and other legislative leaders in her party said they would push for all Minnesotans to have paid family time off in the coming session.
Dayton noted how few states require parental leave and that only 13 percent of Minnesotans had the benefit.
“The perfect is the enemy of the very good,” he said. “This is a very big step forward. ... It’s not a complete step.”
Dayton announced the proposal, which he wants to include in his supplemental budget, during a workforce summit convened by U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in south Minneapolis.
Perez is traveling the country to advocate for paid family leave, and singled out Minnesota as “ground zero” for progressive, labor-friendly policies. He said at the summit that as families have changed over the decades, the U.S. has maintained “Leave it to Beaver” workforce laws.
Paid family leave has also drawn attention on the presidential campaign trail. Hillary Clinton issued a statement praising Dayton’s plan, saying, “we need more leadership like it across the country.” She’s proposing up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
Officials estimate that the benefit would cost $6 million a year and cover 500 people. Employees wouldn’t make a contribution.
The governor said he initially sought four weeks of leave until Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and young mothers on his staff pushed for more. He added that licensed daycare centers in Minnesota already cannot accept infants younger than six weeks old.
In 2014, Dayton signed a law extending unpaid leave for pregnant women from six to 12 weeks.
Sieben told reporters that after having three children in the last eight years, she knew firsthand about the tensions that working parents face.
“This is a most basic family value, and it’s time that our state laws catch up to the reality of our modern workplace,” she said.
It's unclear how likely the measure is to gain traction in the Legislature, where Democrats control the Senate and Republicans control the House.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, criticized Dayton's plan for putting government first, "instead of helping the citizens that pay for government." As chair of the House State Government Finance Committee, she's working on legislation that would do more for private sector employees who want paid time off after having a child. Anderson declined to give specifics about her proposal, saying she was still working out the details.
"I’m trying to find something that everybody can get behind," she said.
The Mayo Clinic, U.S. Bank, Target, Ecolab, and General Mills are among the major private employers that offer paid family leave, according to the governor's office. Hennepin County, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the University of Minnesota, and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities are among the government entities that have also adopted the policy.