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Mother Of Four, Father Of Two Offer Competing Visions Of Maternity Leave For State Employees

On Thursday state Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View filed a bill that’s a bit of a rejoinder to Little Rock Rep. Clarke Tucker’s maternity leave bill.

Irvin is a Republican and Tucker’s a Democrat. 

Late last year Tucker filed House Bill 1046 that would give state employees six-weeks paid maternity leave or $500 a week, whichever is more.

On Thursday Sen. Missy Irvin filed Senate Bill 125. It would also codify state employees’ rights to maternity leave, but not as an employment benefit funded by state agencies. Rather, it calls for maternity leave to be treated as any other leave for sickness or disability, and for the first time would make available hours from the Catastrophic Leave Bank, a pool of accrued annual and sick leave that employees donate unused hours to in order for other employees desperate for paid leave to draw upon.

Tucker said he’s happy the Republican Party is taking up the issue of maternity leave. It's not a threat to his own bill, though presumably both will not make it to the governor's desk.

State Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) and his family.

"I think it shows that there's bipartisan support for paid maternity leave for state employees. The bottom line is I'm excited they filed that bill. I think, you know, if we all put our heads together then we can come up with the best policy."

The chief difference between the two bills is that Tucker’s would create paid maternity leave for state employees, and it would cost the state, albeit a pretty small sum – similar legislation filed in 2015 would have cost the state about $350,000 according to a financial impact statement. Irvin’s legislation presumably would cost little if anything, but it also simply makes Catastrophic Leave available to new mothers, a benefit dependent upon the charity of coworkers.

"This Catastrophic fund is the name of what's currently existing. Now I could be politically correct and I could try and go and change the name, but I really believe people don't believe that Missy Irvin who's had four children, who's loved every minute of motherhood, that I would believe that, you know, that [new motherhood] would be considered or classified as [catastrophic] with our language here of this word. We're utilizing an existing fund. That's what it's named. We're just saying that this is something we should recognize. We should recognize maternity leave as a time when you have to be away from your work and you should be paid."

She said that as vice chair of the joint budget committee that overseas spending, any new legislation that would weigh on the state's general fund or agency budgets should consider creative solutions.

Employees who’ve worked less than a year are explicitly excluded from Tucker’s bill, as are those at public colleges and universities, many of whom have already signed contracts with ample paid leave, maternity or otherwise.

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