- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2016

Advocates and opponents of the D.C. Council’s paid family leave bill say the legislation still has key problems after months of revisions to assuage businesses.

Lawmakers are to vote Tuesday on the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2105.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has reduced the original bill’s payroll tax to fund the paid-leave program from 1 percent to 0.62 percent, the amount of maternity/paternity leave from 16 weeks to 11 weeks, and the amount of wage replacement from 100 percent of pay up to $3,000 per week to 90 percent of pay up to $1,000 per week. The revised bill also would limit leave to tend to a sick relative to eight weeks and does not include personal medical leave.

The chairman also has pledged to hold off on other pro-labor legislation that would affect businesses in the city.

“Sensitive to the cumulative effects of legislation that could have a disparate impact on District employers, I will support a two-year moratorium on the adoption of similar bills, such as mandating scheduling requirements or nurse staffing ratios in hospitals,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

But those concessions have not convinced the District’s business community that the measure should be enacted, especially since city legislators already have enacted a measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in coming years.

“The D.C. Council must slow down this process to allow those who will be impacted and required to pay the cost of this legislation an opportunity to be heard in a public forum,” D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Vincent Orange said Monday in a letter to the council.

Mr. Orange is a former at-large council member who chaired the committee that introduced the original paid-leave legislation last year and held hearings on the bill. He now heads the city’s largest business advocacy group, which has more than 1,500 members.

Meanwhile, supporters of paid family leave say they still support the revised bill but criticize Mr. Mendelson for going too far to appease city employers, especially in offering a two-year moratorium on pro-labor legislation.

“We were disappointed that Mr. Mendelson introduced a revised paid family leave bill that falls far short of the real needs of District residents by cutting out medical leave, and it is further troubling that he would threaten to prevent future action on common-sense measures to help the District’s working families,” said Jacob Feinspan, executive director of Jews United for Justice.

Ari Schwartz, spokesman for DC Jobs With Justice, said in a statement that paid leave supporters were “stunned and deeply concerned” over the council chairman’s call for a moratorium.

The Rev. Graylan S. Hagler of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ said the coming years would be the worst time for the council to back off pro-worker legislation.

“On the eve of a new administration that promises to champion countless attacks on hard-working families, it’s utterly shocking that the chairman would promise to halt all progressive legislation in the District for the first two years of the Trump presidency,” said Mr. Hagler, a leading pro-labor advocate in the District.

Mr. Mendelson acknowledged Monday there is a small movement within the council to table the paid-leave bill before Tuesday’s vote, but said that faction doesn’t have enough votes to stop the measure.

Council member Elissa Silverman, who introduced the original measure, said Monday that the majority of the council supports the bill and she expects it to pass Tuesday.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has not offered support for the bill or indicated whether she’d veto it. However, her staff offered the critique that most workers who would benefit from paid leave actually live in Maryland and Virginia.

The program would apply to all private-sector employees working in the city regardless of where they reside.

Of the 531,999 people who work in the city, about 195,000 live in the District. According to employment statistics, 201,981 city workers live in Maryland and 134,192 live in Virginia, meaning nearly two-thirds of the city’s workforce would receive — and likely spend — paid leave benefits outside the District.

Council member David Grosso acknowledged that the bill’s lack of mayoral support could derail it.

“It’s not going to be an easy task to get this done without the support of the mayor,” Mr. Grosso said Monday. “But we think we’re in a really good spot so we hope the mayor will come around.”

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