Progress Stalls on Paid Parental Leave in the Missouri Legislature

Apr 26, 2017

When Gov. Eric Greitens signed an executive order providing paid parental leave for the executive branch earlier this year, he encouraged lawmakers to extend those policies.

But with time running out in the legislative session, it's unlikely Missourians will see expansion of those policies in the public or private sector.

"I still consider having a public discussion about it a win," said Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, sponsor of one of the pending bills. "I think that it's great that there are both Republican and Democrat sponsors and co-sponsors. All those things show this is a non-partisan issue."

There are four bills in the legislature regarding paid family or medical leave, sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. Three of the four bills have had a hearing, but none have been voted on or made it out of committee.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, has been working on the Family and Medical Leave Program for the past three years. 

As the sponsor of SB 69, Schupp has worked alongside McCreery, the St. Louis University law clinic, human resources professionals and both small and large businesses on this legislation over the last several years. McCreery is sponsoring the House version of the bill, HB 659.

Schupp and McCreery's bills would establish the Missouri Earned Family and Medical Leave Program, which would require Missourians to contribute one-quarter-of-1 percent of their income to a fund that would pay employees 100 percent of their income while on family or medical leave for up to six weeks.

HB 659 and SB 69 require that employees pay into the fund for 52 weeks and have worked for their employer for 26 weeks before being able to utilize the funding.

Both bills include coverage for serious illnesses, adoption, maternity leave, domestic violence and relatives who need leave related to a family member in active duty.

Schupp's office explained that without a required contribution amount, the fund wouldn't work.

The bill would also allow employers already offering paid leave to continue offering it or add on to the percentage of income paid during leave. 

Schupp's bill was heard in committee, but it never came to a vote. According to Schupp, Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, chairman of the Small Business and Industry Committee, didn't like the bill. 

When contacted, Libla confirmed he opposes the bill but didn't provide reasons for his opposition.

"Not this year," Schupp said when asked if she thought her bill would pass.

House Bill 1059, sponsored by Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, was heard in committee Tuesday night, along with McCreery's bill. HB 1059 also establishes the Missouri Earned Family and Medical Leave Program. Kelly partnered with the Women's Foundation for the bill, and her version would allow paid leave for 67 percent of income up to eight weeks. Kelly's bill was heard in committee with HB 659 but was not voted on.

"HB 1059 is the beginning of the conversation that I hope to continue as we prepare for the interim of the next session," Kelly said.

In the hearing, McCreery and Kelly outlined the stringent process employees must go through to document proof of their need for leave in order to receive funding.

Representatives in the hearing raised concerns about the requirement to pay into the fund, rather than having an option to opt out. There were also concerns that there isn't minimum employee requirement, in addition to the cost of HB 1059, which is estimated to be $139 million for fiscal year 2019. 

"We believe the fiscal note is way off," Kelly said.

Both Kelly and McCreery reassured the committee that they were open to feedback in order to continue revising and working on their bills in the interim before next year's session. 

Senate Bill 291, sponsored by Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, would establish paid parental leave for state employees. It has yet to be heard in committee, and Rowden doesn't see it going anywhere this year. He said his bill seems like a multi-year endeavor.

"I think, in part, the conversation took a bit of a different turn with Gov. Greitens' order," Rowden said. "The best thing to do is pump the brakes and continue to have a conversation about it. It's a new idea to some guys and gals in the Senate, so I'm OK with taking some time to educate them on the benefits."