Roundtable to focus on proposed paid family, medical leave bill

Charlie Megginson Government, Headlines

State Sen. Sarah McBride will hold the first in a series of roundtable conversations Thursday focused on 12-week paid family and medical leave and the effect it would have on Delawareans.

The Nov. 17 event at the Trolley Square Brew HaHa! will address Senate Bill 1, also known as the Healthy Delaware Families Act. The event will begin at 4:30 p.m.

The bill would create a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program that workers could access for a qualifying event, including addressing a serious illness, welcoming a new child or helping a household adjust to a recent military deployment. 

The proposal has already faced significant pushback from business leaders in the state who say it would place an undue burden on small businesses. 

“The bill is detrimental as a whole to the small business community,” said Bob Older, president of the Delaware Small Business Chamber. “As much as we don’t want to see this happen at all, if it is going to happen, we want to see a lot of changes that need to happen first.”

Older said that while the upfront cost of a paid family leave program would be burdensome for small businesses on its face, the indirect costs would be too. He pointed to the cost of training temporary employees to fill vacancies, noting that many positions are specialized and can’t be filled by temporary workers. 

He’s also concerned about fraud. Older believes that without a definitive process to evaluate the truthfulness of an employee’s “qualifying event,” many could exploit the program at the expense of employers. 

There’s also no cap on how many qualifying events an employee could have in a year, according to Older. The bill, he says, leaves open the potential for a dishonest employee to seek many periods of paid leave within a year, providing employers no recourse under the law. 

Michael Quarenta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that the subject of the bill is very complicated and becomes exponentially more challenging as smaller businesses are brought into the discussion.

Many of these businesses, Quarenta notes, do not have full-time, dedicated human resource managers or benefits policy experts.

“We have had an ongoing dialogue with the bill author and shared details that outline our concerns,” he said. “At this time, we do not support this bill in its present form.”

McBride says that the policies proposed are “common-sense” and that the pandemic has uncovered just how important programs like the one proposed in Senate Bill 1 are to Delawareans. 

“This legislation will help Delaware families keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, even while facing some of the most common challenges we experience as human beings,” McBride said in a press release. “It is time for us to deliver this pro-worker and pro-business benefit here in Delaware now.”

The proposal would be modeled after similar programs already passed in nine other states and the District of Columbia, but Democrats in Washington have struggled to garner enough support to implement a federal program.

The United States, McBride said, remains the only industrialized, modernized country in the world that does not have a paid family medical leave program in place for either parent.

Older acknowledged that “people need to have a living and there are certain circumstances” that would necessitate a program like the one proposed, but said that an exemption needs to be given to small businesses, who he noted are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. 

Despite their differences, Older said McBride is “one of the only legislators that I know of in recent history that has at least listened and been open-minded to many changes.”

“I understand why Senate Bill 1 is important to her,” Older said. “I understand why she’s fighting hard. But there has to be a happy medium between the two because, you know, a company like Amazon or another big corporation can afford to do this more than a small company with 10, 15 or 20 employees.”

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