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Paid parental leave for state workers considered in Missouri

Missouri lawmakers are pushing to give all state workers paid parental leave after Republican Gov. Eric Greitens signed an order that provides the benefit to some executive branch employees so they can bond with a newborn or adopted child.

Greitens’ order giving up to six weeks of additional paid leave to primary caregivers and three weeks to secondary caregivers applies to workers in the governor’s office and all agencies controlled by one of his appointees. The Missouri Department of Transportation is already following Greitens’ lead, with Director Patrick McKenna adopting the policy for his agency.

House Speaker Todd Richardson said Friday that his chamber will work on legislation to offer the same benefit to all state workers, though with the session already halfway over, the Legislature’s priorities have long been set.

“As to whether there’s enough time left to get a piece of legislation across the finish line, I just don’t know at this point,” he said.

The Senate is also discussing how best to implement the policy to all state employees, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said.

“We’d like to make it fair,” he said. “If there’s something out there, we’d like to be fair for everybody.”

Proposals have been filed the Legislature that would provide some parental leave to all state employees, but none have made it close to the floor.

In the Senate, Republican Sen. Caleb Rowden and Republican Rep. Jay Barnes have filed bills allowing state employees up to 10 days of additional paid leave. A proposal from Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp and similar bills filed in the House would set up an employee-funded account to grant paid leave to any worker in the state with a newborn or adopted child, or to care for family members with serious health conditions.

Missouri has the lowest-paid state employees in the nation, and supporters of offering paid parental leave say it’s one way to recruit and retain workers. Federal law requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during the year after the birth or adoption of a child, and to care for serious medical conditions of family members or the employee.

Several states have adopted their own policies. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island offer paid family and medical leave for all private and public employees, and New York will join them in 2018, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In an announcement on Facebook, Greitens called on other agencies and government branches to follow his executive order.

“We need to do everything in our power to support children and families in this state — and that begins on day one of their arrival in the home,” Greitens said.