Note: An earlier version of this story said there was no cost estimate available for paid maternity leave for state workers. In fact, a 2015 financial impact statement put the costs to the state of six-weeks paid maternity leave at $354,000, according to a story published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 15. Neither source referred to in this story, when asked, made mention of this earlier cost estimate.
Little Rock Democratic Rep. Clarke Tucker is re-introducing paid maternity leave, a state worker benefit he tried and failed to get through the last legislative session.
Filed Monday, House Bill 1046 would give state employees six-weeks paid maternity leave or $500 a week, whichever is more. Employees who’ve worked less than a year are explicitly excluded, as are those at public colleges and universities, many of whom have already signed contracts with ample paid leave, maternity or otherwise.
It does include qualifying part-time employees.
State Rep. Clarke Tucker and Tony Robinson of the Bureau of Legislative Research surveyed 94 state agency heads to get an idea of how many new mothers this would cover. On average, just under 300 live births have been recorded by the state’s Employee Benefits Division over the last five years. Robinson said that number doesn’t count state employees who became new mothers while on another insurance plan.
Neither man said he had an estimate on what paid maternity leave would cost the state, but a financial impact statement conducted in 2015 by the Bureau gave an estimate of $354,000, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Dec. 15.
“You know, there are not that many policies that are both pro-family and also pro-workforce development,” Tucker said Tuesday. “This manages to capture both of those. On the workforce side, there’s tons of studies out there that show, women who are able to take paid leave after they have a baby are much more likely to return to work, much more likely to be employed a year after their baby is born, much less likely to be on government assistance after their baby is born.”
Employee turnover, meanwhile, is a bigger loss of productivity and carries its own expenses, Tucker said, and this bill should make new mothers feel valued.
In 2015 Tucker’s bill was passed out of the House Public Health Committee and out of the House only to fall one vote shy in the Senate Public Health Committee.
“Nobody can quantify the bond between a mom and a newborn child on the first weeks of that child’s life,” said Tucker, himself a fairly young dad. “And again, there’s plenty of data out there on, post-partum depression is reduced, infant mortality is reduced, child cognitive and social-emotional development goes up if they’re with their mother right after they’re born.”
Tucker called the legislation ‘modest’ — it doesn’t cover fathers or new mothers working for private businesses and corporations in the state.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers give new mothers 12 weeks off without penalty, but without pay as well.
“The problem is, without something like this, the alternative is that, as a mother approaching the birth of her child, her option is to stay home with the child on an unpaid basis and have a family financial crisis, or to go to work.”