Last night, NBC4’s Tom Sherwood moderated a panel discussion at Busboys and Poets (14th Street) organized by the Ward 1 Democrats on the District’s new Paid Family Leave Act. The legislation was approved in December and Mayor Bowser has until 5:30 pm February 16th to act on the bill. While many are of the opinion that she will not veto the bill, there is a possibility that she may allow it to move forward without her signature. After February 16th, Congress has a 30 day passive review process. If they take no action, the bill becomes law.
The panel consisted of Phil Mendelson (DC Council Chair), Joanna Blotner (Jews United for Justice), Maria Gomez (Mary’s Center), Vincent Orange (DC Chamber of Commerce), Jonathan Cho (Sakuramen and Bul Korean), and Jonetta Rose Barras (Barras Report). Mendelson, Blotner, and Gomez spoke in support of the legislation, and Orange, Cho, and Barras were critics of the legislation.
Mendelson opened the discussion by stating that the goal of the Act was to help local businesses by making employment in the District of Columbia attractive and competitive to employees. Even so, implementation will not take effect until 2020 as money can’t be collected for the program until an agency is set up to administer the Act.
Those opposed to the Act stated they were not opposed to universal paid leave, but rather how the leave was being funded. As enrolled, the funds to support the program are raised in the form of a tax paid for by District businesses. Cho stated that the money should come from employees in the form of a payroll deduction and be administered as an insurance program as other cities and countries are currently doing this. Barras was critical that residents from Maryland and Virginia who work in the District will benefit and that the Act excludes Federal and District of Columbia employees. Orange stated that he preferred a mandate that employers provide leave when needed by employees.
Blotner stated that mandates don’t work and expressed support to increase the leave from 8 weeks to a longer period in the future. Gomez acknowledged that the Act will have a significant cost to Mary’s Center, but that providing universal paid leave to take care of District families is the right thing to do.
Mendelson did acknowledge that he would have preferred the structure described by Cho (payroll deductions), but that the District’s unique relationship with Congress and the Home Rule Act prohibits payroll deductions — an issue that has frustrated the Council for many years.
Overall, I left the discussion with the impression that the Act will be implemented and the city will move forward to set up the agency in support of the program … but that the Act can also be amended to make the legislation and program better.