Thank you, Chairman Mendelson. I would like to thank you for scheduling and holding this hearing today and for your thoughtful approach to constructing a witness list that will allow us to hear diverse perspectives on the “Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015.”
At this point, we are all aware that as introduced, Bill 21-415, “The Universal Paid Leave Act” will establish a fund that will enable workers in the District of Columbia to receive up to 16 weeks of paid leave for a major life event such as birth or adoption of a child, caring for a sick family member, or for self-care. The fund will be supported by payments from employers, the self-employed, and certain individual employees.
Since I became a Councilmember, I have been exploring ways to support our working families. In 2014, I introduced legislation that was later incorporated in the Budget Support Act that allowed for D.C. government employees to be eligible for 8 weeks paid leave. At that time, I made the promise to continue the work started on paid leave and to study how we could expand this policy to all workers in the District of Columbia.
As Chairperson of the Committee on Education, I believe that investing in our families will benefit the lives of all of our residents and our city’s children. This bill will help workers take the time they need to support their families or themselves without having to make the hard choice between a pay check and their loved one’s immediate needs. Study after study has shown that forms of paid leave are good for children, parents, and the elderly.
The long-term effects of this bill are good for our businesses. It will increase a person’s likelihood to return to work after a qualifying event, therefore decreasing the costs associated with employee turnover. It will make the District of Columbia a city where people want to work and live, and it will give all of our businesses a competitive edge for offering progressive benefits packages at a lower cost than they can now.
Prior to introduction and since, I have met or spoken directly with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trade, the Hospital Association, the Restaurant Association, the Hotel Association, Georgetown University, Trinity College, small business owners, union leaders, and individuals to review all of the variables of the legislation. In these meetings, the conversations have been thoughtful, and open from all parties to find ways that we can explore to make this legislation possible for as many employees as we can and with low cost burdens to our employers.
During the drafting process, my staff and I worked to model the implications of such a robust program to provide for our families and residents. We looked at tax numbers, employee numbers, and the preliminary findings of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research which has been studying our current paid leave policies in the D.C. Government. I understand the desire of constituents and business leaders to have more sophisticated models and deeper sets of numbers, but the fact is that pulling, analyzing, and compiling this data is technical and complicated and it is not until legislation is introduced that we can set the wheels in motion for sound research.
As written, the bill has over ten variables that if adjusted would lower the cost of the bill or the burdens on employers or residents. In our conversations about the proposed legislation, I have heard many of the concerns and believe there are shifts that can be made and we are analyzing all of them closely.
As the bill moves through the hearing process at the Council, I am working closely with our Chief Financial Officer, the Council budget office, Chairman Mendelson, businesses, and advocates to fill out the details of what options we have for providing the best amount of paid family and medical leave for the maximum number of D.C residents, while ensuring that we are covering low income workers who are least likely to have access to any form of paid leave.
Today, we start the public conversation about the proposed bill and the variables that are problematic for some or are supported by others. The hearing process is one that is essential for having an open and transparent conversation, so that we can speak frankly and have our positions placed on the record. This is the beginning of an engaging process with all parties; it may take time and at times we may not agree, but I do believe that in the end, we will have a working program that our city can be proud of and D.C. can continue being a national policy leader.
It is important to note that I am not naïve and have not taken up this proposal lightly. It was not quickly drafted or without serious thought. I knew two years ago that this process would not be easy. With serious thought come reservations about the consequences – both intended and unintended – for everyone this bill will affect. Frankly, the consequences that matter the most to me are the ones primarily affecting our residents: the infants who are born prematurely, the mothers forced back to work two weeks postpartum, and the sick or injured elderly parents with little to no access to quality care.
I do not take the effects this bill will have on businesses lightly and that is why we are here today, asking you how we can be industry leaders and make systematic changes to the way we treat the people who work in the District of Columbia.
Yes, I have heard some of you say “we are moving fast and we are getting ahead of the rest of the nation on paid leave” and to that I ask: are we really moving that quickly or are we actually way behind? Why should we not lead on policies that support businesses, expand industries and also allow working families to care for themselves and their loved ones?
With that, I want to thank everyone who is here today or is submitting testimony for the record. I appreciate the time that you have all taken, regardless of your position on the bill, to study it and provide us with your feedback.
I look forward to the testimony and engaging in a robust dialogue with the witnesses.