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Maine Senate approves paid family and medical leave bill

  crowd that rallied at the state house.
Patty Wight
Maine Public file
A crowd rallied at the state house in support of paid family leave on May 25, 2023.

Democrats in the Maine Senate have given initial approval to a sweeping paid family and medical leave bill.

Business groups worry the proposal is too expensive and will exacerbate current workforce shortages, but supporters argue that the program is long overdue and will prevent a referendum that's more generous to workers.

If it becomes law, Maine would join about dozen states that allow workers to take paid time off after the birth of a child or to care for themselves or a loved one.

The benefits of family and medical leave programs vary from state to state, but the Maine proposal would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks off while receiving 66-90% of their pay. The program is funded through a 1% payroll tax split between employers and employees. Businesses with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt, but workers would still pay to use the benefit.

The bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Mattie Daughtry, a Democrat from Brunswick, said the proposal will benefit the more than 75% of Mainers who don't currently receive paid time off. And she said the proposal balances worker and business interests while preempting a referendum advanced by progressive groups.

"And I know that passing this today gives us the firm step to be able to put in a compromise that works for Maine, not one that is authored by outside groups," she said.

Business groups and Republicans say the proposal is too generous compared to neighboring states like New Hampshire, which has an optional leave program.

The Senate voted 22-12 to approve the bill, and while it likely has the votes to pass in the Democratic controlled House, it's unclear whether Gov. Janet Mills will support it.

State start-up costs, pegged at approximately $24 million over the biennium according to a fiscal analysis of the bill, are also unresolved.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.