Future cloudy for state parental leave benefit

Sen. Susan Kent spoke in support of paid parental leave during a state employee union news conference. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

State employees are urging Minnesota lawmakers to preserve their newly-acquired benefit of paid parental leave.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton took administrative steps last year to grant six weeks of paid leave to about 32,000 state workers. But the benefit will soon go away unless the Republican-controlled Legislature approves it this session.

Minnesota Department of Health employee Blair Sevcik, who is currently on a paid leave, praised the benefit Tuesday during a state Capitol news conference organized by the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.

“This policy has been incredibly meaningful for me and my family, for my family’s financial health and our mental health” Sevcik said. “It has allowed us to spend this short window of time focusing on my new baby.”

But DFL-backed legislation to continue to parental leave as part of collective bargaining agreements and other compensation plans for state workers has yet to receive committee hearings in the House or Senate.

Despite looming committee deadlines, Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said she hopes her bill is in the end-of-session mix.

“I certainly hope it’s not a bargaining chip, because there’s too just much of a human impact on this,” Kent said. “I think we need to be better than that.”

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith issued a statement also urging the Legislature to act on parental leave.

“This is an opportunity for Minnesota to be a leader, and an important for first step to providing paid parental leave for all Minnesotans, no matter where they work,” Smith said.

Republicans have raised concerns about the way the Dayton administration granted the benefit outside of contract negotiations.

“That should have been done legislatively,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. “But there are a number of issues like that that are on the table and we’ll take a look at a number of things together.”

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