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Texas Republicans and Democrats coalesce around proposals to expand paid parental leave

A baby's hand
Under current law, state employees are not granted any paid parental leave. Instead, they must use sick or vacation time, as well as unpaid leave under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

When Ann Bishop adopted his two kids in the 1980s, she was very happy — but also very stressed out.

Bishop, who currently serves as the executive director of the Texas Public Employees Association, didn’t have paid parental leave at the time, and could only take one week of unpaid leave to bond with her new family.

“The most difficult part was finding daycare,” Bishop told the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce on Tuesday. “When you are a natural birth, you can plan for that a little bit. When you are an adoptive parent you are told one day, you go pick up your child the next day. “

Nearly 40 years later, Emily Lindley’s story is similar to Bishop’s.

Lindley is a commissioner with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and became a parent in 2021. To prepare, she looked into her agency’s family and medical leave policy.

“I was so mad,” Lindley said. “I had to burn through six weeks of sick leave … and if I want to take any more time I got to take annual leave.”

Lindley’s and Bishop’s experiences are shared by many state employees in Texas. Under current law, they are not granted any paid parental leave. Instead, state employees must use sick or vacation time, as well as unpaid leave under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

But a Senate bill making its way through the Texas Legislature would significantly change things for parents working for the state.

Senate Bill 222 would grant state employees who are parents of newborns and adoptive parents six weeks of paid leave.

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said he authored the bill because parents are often left in difficult positions financially when they have to use unpaid leave to take care of their children.

He said it would also help combat the worker’s shortage currently affecting state government.

“Paid parental leave would help the state attract, I believe, and retain talent,” Nichols told the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce. “As one of the largest employers in the state, Texas should be a leader and supporting mothers and their babies, including allowing parents time off in the critical window following birth.”

Nichols’s bill has three co-authors — all of them are Democrats.

Texas’ workforce turnover has been a point of stress for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who have said they want to make the state government more attractive and competitive.

According to the left-leaning think tank Every Texan, “In 2022, our state workforce turnover rate was the highest it’s been in 29 years.”

A report issued by Every Texan found the state workforce turnover was 22.7% in 2022.

Amanda Posson, a senior analyst at Every Texan, told the Senate panel that giving paid parental leave to 140,000 state employees is a good start “in ensuring that we lean into our values.”

She said six weeks of paid parental leave is important for parents since many licensed daycares won’t accept kids under six weeks old.

“Adding benefits like this drastically improve workforce retention,” Posson added.

Posson and Every Texan are also pushing for a bill that would require paid parental leave in every private business.

If passed, House Bill 2604 measure would provide parents with up to one thousand dollars in replacement wages per week of absence. Employers would be required to contribute an “amount equal to 0.15 percent of all wages paid by the employer during the calendar year.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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