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Labor committee approves paid family and medical leave bill

The House Labor Committee listens to testimony Jan. 30 on a bill that would provide paid family, pregnancy, bonding and applicant's serious medical condition benefits. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Employees who need time away from work to address a family or medical issue, but can’t afford an unpaid leave, may no longer face such a choice.

Sponsored by Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan), HF5 seeks to establish a state-run insurance program that would partially reimburse the wages lost when workers take leaves for those reasons.

The House Labor Committee approved the bill 10-5 Wednesday and referred it to the House Commerce Committee. It has no Senate companion.

Halverson told members the bill would “provide for 12 weeks of medical leave with partial wage replacement and/or 12 weeks of family leave to bond with a new baby, care for a sick loved one, through an insurance program that’s modeled on Minnesota’s unemployment insurance.”

Rep. Laurie Halverson presents her paid family leave bill in committee 1/30/19

However, Halverson said the bill, in its current form, is simply the beginning of the conversation and she is still looking at ways it can be improved.

“It’s going to change,” Halverson said. “This is the start of a process to get input and to hear from stakeholders to make sure employers, workers, government entities and others have a seat at the table while we plan and implement this new policy.”

Halverson said she expects to offer an amendment during the commerce committee hearing to modify the bill based on that feedback.

Several members questioned the cost of the program, who would pay for it, and how it would be implemented.

Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) said businesses in rural communities already face workforce shortages and said they would have a hard time with additional expenses.

“These businesses are struggling already,” Fabian said. “It’s not easy out there.”

He also questioned how the state would overcome the technical issues involved in creating a new system, noting the problems with rollouts of the health insurance and automobile license systems over the past few years. 

“We have a history of things not working,” Fabian said.

Halverson said lessons were learned from those experiences and improvements to the state’s online systems have been made, and will continue going forward.

HF5 was one of the first bills introduced this session as part of the “values plan” DFL leaders said they created after conversations around the state over the last two years.

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