Bill allowing paid-leave insurance policies clears Senate

Republicans propose paid family leave plan
Sen. Julia Coleman, R-Chanhassen, and some of her Republican colleagues propose a paid family leave plan at the Capitol on Monday, March 21, 2022.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Minnesota’s Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow insurers to offer paid family leave coverage for employers that want to extend coverage to their workers.

The legislation that allows for a voluntary option is paired with tax credits in a separate bill due for a vote this week. But it’s a narrower approach than a state-managed family and medical leave program passed earlier by the DFL House, and the bill drew complaints that it wouldn’t deliver on the promise of adequate coverage.

The Senate bill passed on a 37-29 vote, with one DFLer and two independents joining all Republicans in favor.

Sen. Julia Coleman, the bill’s sponsor, said she wanted to avoid a mandate while giving small employers a chance to keep up with a benefit major businesses now routinely offer.

“It’s written broadly enough so that each individual employer can work directly with their insurance company to create the perfect package for their business and their unique employees’ needs,” said Coleman, R-Waconia.

Policies would cover bonding time within the first 12 months of a birth or adoption and allow for paid leave when dealing with a close relative’s serious health condition. It would apply to spouses, parents, grandparents and children of the person with coverage.

Her bill would bar the state from offering a competing insurance option. The first policies would become available next January.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, warned that many workers would be left out.

“This is just simply an open door for insurance companies to offer more insurance policies, more insurance options that small businesses simply cannot afford. That is the problem we have,” she said. “So we’re not solving the problem with this bill.”

Senate Democrats tried to expand the proposal with the state-administered system pushed by the House and DFL Gov. Tim Walz, but their measure was ruled out of order. They said people who didn’t opt in to employer-offered plans prior to pregnancy wouldn’t get the coverage.

“I’m looking for actual paid family and medical leave,” said Sen. Jennifer McEwen, DFL-Duluth. “This is a pay-to-play scheme in my mind. This is pay-to-play. This is profit mongering disguised as care.”

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said it’s an insurance product that’s not available today and avoids a cumbersome government program. 

“Would you rather deal with a government-run program with no flexibility as if we’re all the same? No, we need to let Minnesotans choose,” Nelson said. “I don’t believe government is the be all, end all in every aspect of our lives.”

Nelson is sponsoring the companion tax bill that would provide tax credits of up to $3,000 per worker for companies with 50 or fewer employers that have paid family leave. That bill is set for a vote Wednesday.

Passage of the bills late in the legislative session could make it difficult to find a compromise before the May 23 adjournment.

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, didn’t rule out a potential deal. “It’s a great bill and hopefully we can have continued discussions on it,” he said.

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