State Senate passes Healthy Delaware Families Act

By Logan B. Anderson
Posted 3/8/22

DOVER — On International Women’s Day, the Delaware State Senate passed legislation that will create a family and medical leave program in the First State.

Called the Delaware Healthy …

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State Senate passes Healthy Delaware Families Act


DOVER — On International Women’s Day, the Delaware State Senate passed legislation that will create a family and medical leave program in the First State.

Called the Delaware Healthy Families Act, the measure, if signed into law, would create a system where many employees in the state would be able to take paid leave to deal with a major life event, such as the birth of a child, caring for a sick relative, a major personal health event or coping with issues relating to military deployment.

Tuesday’s vote was along party lines, clearing the chamber with a tally of 14 to 7. The entire Senate Republican caucus voted against the measure.

“Today marks a historic milestone in our fight to make sure working families in Delaware are never again forced to make an impossible choice between earning a paycheck and staying home to welcome a newborn or provide care for a family member fighting for their life,” said Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington, the prime sponsor of the Healthy Delaware Families Act.

Once fully implemented, the act would provide eligible workers in Delaware with up to 12 weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave a year.

It would also provide up to six weeks of paid family caregiving leave, paid medical leave or paid military leave every two years for employees who qualified.

The program would pay workers up to 80% of their average weekly wages through the state insurance program created by the measure.

The initiative would be funded by a new payroll tax, amounting to less than 1% of wages split between the employer and the employee.

Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, successfully sponsored a similar measure while serving as a member of the Wilmington City Council.

“Every developed nation in the world already has some form of paid leave. Mexico offers 12 weeks; France offers mothers six weeks of paid leave. The United Kingdom offers 20 weeks of paid maternity leave. Countries like Pakistan, South Africa and Venezuela, all at least offer 12 weeks of paid leave … How is it that we can deny this to Delawareans?” he said.

“This bill does support small businesses, but it also supports the men and women each and every day that do the hard work,” Sen. Brown added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark, urged his fellow senators to pass the bill before the vote on Tuesday.

“If you care about families, if you care about others, there’s no reason why every other capitalist democracy in the world can do this and we can’t. We are not number one in this, we’ll be the number 10 state along with the District of Columbia and I would urge my colleagues to support this,” Sen. Sokola said.

The family and medical leave trust fund will be administered by the state Department of Labor and will begin in 2025.

“We should do everything we can to support businesses and the employees who work there,” said Gov. John Carney in a statement issued following the passage of the measure on Tuesday.

“Younger workers aren’t just looking for a job; they’re looking for a way of life. This legislation builds on the work we’ve done for state employees and extends paid leave into the private sector. It’s the right thing to do, and it will help attract a talented workforce to live, work, and raise their families in Delaware. Thank you to members of the Senate for passing this legislation, and to Senator McBride for her leadership on this important issue.”

The program will cost the state $17 million to get off the ground. Gov. Carney indicated that he will sign the measure if it makes it to his desk by adding the expected costs to his fiscal year 2023 recommended budget submitted to the General Assembly in January.

If enacted, the Labor Department would immediately begin the process of setting up the program by seeking out the technology needed and would begin to recruit staff even though the benefits would not be available to Delaware workers for about three years.

A long road

Sen. McBride has been working on this issue since taking office last year. In May 2021, she introduced Senate Bill 1. The measure laid out a new family and medical leave program but received a great deal of pushback from the business community.

She embraced the pushback and went out into the community to look for ways she could improve the legislation. She spoke to individual companies and groups and addressed many of the state’s chambers of commerce.

In January, she introduced Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 1. That measure was created using the feedback from state business leaders. After the substitute measure was introduced, Sen. McBride continued her outreach. In February she spoke to the Delaware Chamber of Commerce and earlier this month she met with the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce.

On Friday, she introduced Senate Substitute 2 for Senate Bill 1 based on additional feedback she received. That legislation is what passed the Senate on Tuesday. The Healthy Delaware Families Act is now more in line with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

According to Sen. McBride, more than 50 Delaware-based organizations have signed on in support of the measure, including the Delaware chapters of the AARP, the League of Women Voters, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Delaware Nurses Association, as well as local labor unions, congregations, businesses, and many other groups.

ChristianaCare, the largest private employer in Delaware, and Nemours Children’s Health, the state’s largest pediatric health system, also recently endorsed The Healthy Delaware Families Act.

On Tuesday morning, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Business Roundtable issued a joint statement on the measure. While the groups did not issue an outright endorsement for the proposed law, they were grateful to be able to work with Sen. McBride on the issue.

“When the first iteration of the Healthy Delaware Families Act — or Senate Bill 1 — was introduced in 2021, we were concerned about the major impacts it would have on the business community, particularly on Delaware’s small businesses. Over the last year, we engaged many key partners to receive feedback, which led to conversations with the bill’s sponsor to address these concerns,” it said.

“The current version more closely reflects the Federal Medical Leave Act. It provides clearer definitions and more time for employers to evaluate their current policies, react, and plan for the future.

“As we continue to look at the bill, we are pleased that it is increasingly closer to a policy that allows both employers and employees to appropriately deal with life events while recognizing the economic realities of running a business.”

Examples of some of the compromises made in the bill include businesses with fewer than 25 workers are not required to participate in the medical and family caregiving component of the program and businesses with fewer than 10 workers are not required to participate in parental leave, but they may opt in. Businesses with comparable benefits can opt-out of the program in whole or in part.

Republican opposition

Senate Republicans’ concerns centered around perceived hardships the directive would add to businesses.

“It’s just another straw. And sooner or later, that final straw breaks the back of the businesses and employees,” said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Smyrna. “Again, I’ll just say this, if you drive the employers out who bears the cost of this, the state of Delaware and the taxpayers. I think that’s absurd to put it back on folks.”

Dover Republican Sen. Colin Bonini said he couldn’t support the measure because it was another mandate on businesses. He said he thinks the same benefits could have been created with incentives like tax breaks.

“I think that sponsors of this bill are absolutely trying to do the right thing … I’m just concerned that it’s a mandate and that there are unintended consequences, where we may in fact be hurting that business environment that we all need to continue to grow,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, and his family own a number of downstate grocery and hardware stores. He expressed concerns about the timing of the legislation when businesses and consumers are dealing with rising inflation and gas prices.

Sen. McBride thanked all of the senators who spoke on Tuesday despite their stance on the legislation but called the Healthy Delaware Families Act a “win, win for employees and businesses.”

Casting a vote to pass the Delaware Healthy Families Act meant a lot to many members of the Senate on Tuesday.

“I am thinking about women today women who are the breadwinners for significant amounts of their families in the state of Delaware, including 82% of black mothers, including 56% of Latino mothers and 48% of white mothers who are the breadwinners for their families. And who on International Women’s Day we get to say that we’re honoring with not just kind words on the Senate floor which are important but with legislation that will change the trajectory of their families,” said Sen. Marie Pinkney, D-Bear.

The Healthy Delaware Families Act now heads to the Delaware House of Representatives for final consideration.

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