North Dakota lawmakers argue over paid household trip

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Freeimages.com / Miguel Ugalde

On Wednesday, February 3rd, lawmakers held their first hearing on House Bill 1441, which was designed to introduce a nationwide paid family vacation program.

The program would create a fund for eligible employees to be paid for during free time for scenarios such as serious medical or mental illness for themselves or family members, caring for a child for the first year after birth, adoption, or the start date of care and free time for the Worker or family members who are victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence or sexual trafficking.

“This allows people to take care of themselves, their new child or a loved one without leaving their job permanently or without financial problems if they stay in their job but choose to take time off without pay said Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, the bill’s main sponsor.

An employee participating in the program can take up to 12 weeks of paid vacation, which allows for up to 66% of their weekly salary with a cap of $ 1,000 per week. An employee can take intermittent vacation and must work at least 500 hours in their position to qualify for vacation.

Hanson proposed a similar bill in 2019 that failed, but with several changes including allowing employers and employees to participate in the program, she hopes this bill will gain more support.

The funding for the medical vacation would start with a $ 5 million loan from the North Dakota Legacy Fund, and the rest would be paid for with contributions from both employees and employers.

If an employee opts for the paid family vacation program, they will give 6 cents out of $ 10 to the paid family vacation fund, and an employer may choose to pay all or part of the employee’s contributions. An employer who chooses to participate receives a tax credit as an incentive.

Under federal law, the 1993 Family and Sick Leave Act requires employers to offer workers 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for newborn babies or family members. By December 2020, at least nine states and Washington, DC, had some form of paid family vacation in place, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Hanson stressed that the proposed family vacation program was voluntary, but small business organization leaders still had concerns.

Matt Gardner, director of government affairs for the Greater North Dakota Chamber, said the program would disrupt the free market as many companies already offer paid family vacations and more choose to do so for their employees.

“If this program were offered by the government, how many employers would choose to use this program instead of the program that they fully fund?” Asked Gardner.

Some lawmakers are even further against paid family leave.

On Thursday, February 4th, lawmakers will hold its first hearing on House Bill 1398, which would prohibit local governments from making laws requiring employers to grant paid family leave outside of federal or state regulations.

However, the push to establish a paid family vacation program in North Dakota has several supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota.

“The passage of House Bill 1441 would be a major civil rights victory in North Dakota,” the ACLU said in a press release on Wednesday.

Rachel Richter Lordemann, president of the Williston Chamber of Commerce, said the program was beneficial for businesses.

“This optional paid family vacation program would be an incredible tool for North Dakota businesses to attract and retain employees,” said Judge Lordemann. “Paid family vacations can often be viewed as a corporate luxury. However, this bill offers a flexible or free option for businesses of all sizes.”

The House Committee on Industry, Economy and Labor did not vote on a recommendation on Wednesday.

Readers can reach Forum News Service reporter Michelle Griffith, a member of the Report for America Corps, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.