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Dayton proposes state worker parental leave; lawmakers want more

Minnesota state Rep. Jason Metsa of Virginia says Tuesday that a bill he sponsors would give leave to new parents and people taking care of sick and aging family members. (DON DAVIS | FORUM NEWS SERVICE)1 / 2
Minnesota State Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove says Tuesday that a bill she sponsors would give leave to new parents and people taking care of sick and aging family members. (DON DAVIS | FORUM NEWS SERVICE)2 / 2

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton wants to give six weeks parental leave to Minnesota state employees, while some Democratic lawmakers want to require private businesses also to offer paid leave and for more than just when a new child arrives.

The Democratic governor Tuesday said he would include the plan in changes he soon will propose for the two-year state budget enacted last year.

It would cost $6 million for a year and the Legislature would need to approve the spending

More than 35,000 employees would be eligible for the new benefit, with 500 a year likely to take advantage of it.

Democratic lawmakers plan to go beyond what Dayton proposes, mandating paid leave by private businesses. That leave could extend beyond the birth or adoption of a child, stretching to caring for sick and aging loved ones, too.

“It has to be just a start,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said of the Dayton plan. “We have to pass this in the state of Minnesota for all workers.”

“The Legislature is ahead of me,” Dayton said, adding that his administration has not looked into the broader parental leave requirement.

Rep. Jason Metsa, D-Virginia, promoted provisions contained in a bill he and Sen. Katie Sieben, D-Cottage Grove, are offering.

“This is about rural families, rural families who are aging actually being able to stay home and take care of their parents,” Metsa said.

Sieben said she wants to extend the plan offered by Dayton and promoted by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to all Minnesota workers.

“It must become the normal, or expected, thing to do, as it has been in so many other countries,” said Sieben, who as a lawmaker became mother to three children in eight years.

Only three states offer government workers paid parental leave, but many other countries require the practice.

“For far too long, we have forced tens of thousands of hard-working parents to make an impossible choice: to spend time with their newborn or recently adopted child, or earn the money they need to care for their families,” Dayton said.

Smith said that she picked six weeks because child care providers often do not accept children before that age. Private businesses that offer paid parental leave often provide twice that.

About 14 percent of Minnesota companies offer paid parental time off. Federal law has required companies to give new parents unpaid time off since 1993.

“You cannot put a value on the time parents spend with their babies during first few weeks of their child’s life — time every parent and child deserve,” said Smith, who Dayton said spearheaded the proposal. “Some parents can afford to forgo six weeks of pay to stay home with their child, but far too many cannot.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said state parental leave legislation will be a priority for Senate Democrats.

House Republicans likely also will look into the issue, but have not said how their legislation will look.

“We all share the goal of making sure Minnesota is a place where people want to raise their family,” said Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, chairwoman of the House State Government Finance Committee.

Anderson said she has not seen the administration’s plan, but it would provide state workers benefits not available from many private employers.

“As a working parent, I know how important parental leave is for mothers and fathers, and that is why I am currently working on legislation for this session that provides for more families in the private sector to receive paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child,” Anderson said.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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