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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson December 17, 2021

Democrats focus on paid leave proposal rather than requirement for sick days

During his presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised to "make paid sick leave permanent" along the lines of a proposal by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., known as the Healthy Families Act.

The two lawmakers have introduced companion bills in their chambers, but neither has advanced. Instead, congressional Democrats have focused on a related but distinct initiative to expand guarantees of paid leave for employees.

The DeLauro bill, H.R. 2465, and the Murray bill, S. 1195, would require that employees be allowed to accrue up to seven paid sick days per year to address their own short-term medical needs or the needs of their families. 

However, the bills have been overshadowed by efforts to enact a different Biden promise that would serve some of the same goals: guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

Advocates say that guaranteeing paid leave would allow employees to maintain economic security in the event they temporarily become unable to work. Critics counter that if the provision is too broad, it could become an economic burden on companies and lead them to cut back on the number of people they employ.

Currently, workers can take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The provisions in the Build Back Better bill passed by the House would go much further, if the Senate agrees.

Starting in January 2024, any worker, with any length of service, would qualify for four weeks of paid leave if they fall ill, if they need to care for an ill relative, or if they are caring for a new child, according to an analysis of the bill by the Society for Human Resource Management

Compensation would be set on a sliding scale from 53% to 90% of income, depending on the employee's regular rate of compensation. Employees would need to provide seven days of advance notice to initiate the paid leave period.

However, after House passage, the Build Back Better bill moved to the Senate, where it now faces obstacles, primarily from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Manchin is a crucial vote for Democrats in a closely divided Senate, especially with Republicans expressing universal opposition to most of Biden's agenda items. And beyond his generalized concerns about the price tag of the Build Back Better bill, Manchin has specifically expressed skepticism about the paid leave provision.

To ease Manchin's concerns about the bill, House Democrats initially agreed to eliminate the paid leave provision prior to voting on the measure. But after a backlash from Democratic lawmakers, a four-week version was added back into the measure prior to the vote. 

Manchin, however, is still concerned about the slimmed-down version. As negotiations continue, it's unclear whether the paid leave provision will make it into the final Senate bill.

Either way, the focus on the paid leave measure has delayed any serious pursuit of the Murray-DeLauro bills. We rate this promise Stalled.

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