Should North Dakota oversee a paid family leave program? Lawmakers are considering it
Thirteen states have enacted some kind of paid family leave and more could be on the way, including South Dakota and Minnesota.
BISMARCK — A bipartisan group of North Dakota lawmakers believes offering workers paid leave to care for newborn babies and sick family members could be part of the answer to the state’s workforce woes and child care crisis.
House Bill 1460 would establish a paid family leave program administered by the state and funded mostly by employers and their workers.
Supporters of the legislation say it would allow workers to be with family or to recover from injuries while staying above water financially. Opponents contend a publicly run program unfairly burdens businesses and puts the state at financial risk.
Under the proposal by Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, businesses or their employees could choose to pay a small regular fee — six cents of every $10 of wages — into a statewide pool of money that compensates workers for 60% of their salary for up to 12 weeks of leave.
To take paid leave, employees would have to experience an “eligible event,” including the birth of a child or the deterioration of a family member’s health.
Employers who pay into the program would be eligible for a corporate income tax credit, though no businesses would be required to participate. Workers at any business could opt to pay into the program even without their employer’s backing.
The bill relies on a $5 million loan from the voter-approved Legacy Fund to start up the program under the state labor commissioner.
Workers at large employers are guaranteed unpaid family and medical leave through federal law, but Hanson told the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee on Monday, Jan. 30, that paid family leave would prevent North Dakotans from having to choose “between their paycheck and caring for themselves or a loved one.”
The Fargo lawmaker sponsored a nearly identical proposal in 2021, but the House amended it into a study of paid family leave. The Senate narrowly defeated the proposed study.
But Hanson believes legislators should feel greater urgency to pass the bill amid severe labor and child care shortages.
Thirteen states have enacted some kind of paid family leave, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced a plan last week to extend paid family leave to private sector workers, and Minnesota lawmakers are considering a proposal to institute a family leave program.
Establishing a program in North Dakota would help the state compete with its neighbors for workers in a tight labor market, Hanson said. Allowing parents to stay with newborns would ease some of the demand on overwhelmed daycare businesses, she added.
Dr. Natalie Dvorak, a Moorhead-based pediatrician, said giving new parents extra time at home with their newborns would allow for invaluable bonding time and prove beneficial to both child and maternal health.
AARP lobbyist Janelle Moos said paid family leave would help keep older residents in their homes by creating a way for their adult children to take time off work in emergency cases.
Arik Spencer, the president of the Greater North Dakota Chamber, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying the state shouldn’t force the program onto private businesses, which would have to let their enrolled employees go on leave. He said the private sector should come up with solutions to the problem.
Rep. Paul Thomas, R-Velva, said establishing a state-administered program would be unfair to businesses that already offer paid family leave and use it as a recruiting tool.
Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, expressed concern that the state would be on the hook if the program ran out of money and became insolvent.
The committee did not take action on the bill Monday morning.
HB 1460 by Jeremy Turley on Scribd