Maine House Speaker introduces paid family medical leave bill

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - As Congress is working on legislation to enact a new federal paid family medical leave policy, Maine may become the seventh state to have such policy.

A public hearing was held on a paid family medical leave bill Friday sponsored by House Speaker Sara Gideon.

"I can't think of anything more important that we need to do in Maine today or in the United States today than to actually step forward and value our families the way that we do," said Gideon.

The bill would allow up to 12 weeks of paid family leave or 20 weeks of paid medical leave.

Employees must have paid into the fund for at least 26 weeks in the previous year to qualify.

"Too many are struggling living pay check to pay check, and when they get that call about needing to be there for their family member, they have to find ways to make that work, or too often some of them lose their jobs," said Andrea Zuniga from Paid Leave for the U.S. "And that's not the way it is, that's not the way life should be."

"This is our way of saying, 'How do we actually value families?' Make sure that they are not only healthy but have economic security, and therefore create a healthier, better workforce for the state of Maine," said Gideon.

Funding for the program would come from a proposed 0.75% tax on employees' paychecks.

Opponents of the bill worry about the impact that it would have on workers' wages and on small businesses.

"I think it's wonderful when people can stay home and take care of the people that they love, be it a baby or an elderly baby or a sick spouse, but I don't believe forcing every employee in the state of Maine to have a tax increase on their paycheck is the way to do it," said Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn.

"This is a great concern to us because it represents burden, a financial burden," said Peter Gore, Executive Vice President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. "Not just with people absent from work, but a financial burden because they're going to have to track, calculate, send in all this information on a weekly basis to the state."

The bill still faces work in the committee before it goes to a vote.