Virginia House Panel Rejects Paid Family Leave Bill, Breaking Republican Leader’s Promise

The House Republican party abandoned a promise by the House Majority Leader Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, by rejecting a bill to offer paid family leave for state employees.

Cox said in December that he would direct the House clerk to develop a policy to provide 12 weeks of paid leave to all full-time House employees following the birth or adoption of a child. During his announcement, he added that he would also support legislation to extend paid leave benefits to all state employees.

Supporters watched the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Compensation and Retirement carefully as the first test to Cox’s promise was presented to the Republican-controlled panel on Thursday.  

“Family is the bedrock of our society, and there’s nothing more important to a family than those first few months at home as they welcome and share joyous moments with their new child,” said Cox during an announcement after being sworn in as speaker. “As a society, we have to do more to strengthen families and encourage women to remain in the workplace. Strong parental leave policies improve morale and reduce turnover, two things critical in public sector workplaces.”

House Bill 1529, introduced by Del. Mark Sickels, D-Alexandria, would have required the Department of Human Resource Management to implement a 12-week medical and parental leave benefit program for all state employees.

The bill failed, 4-1.

The Republican panel was skeptical of the impact the bill would have on the state budget.

A representative from Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration explained a fiscal impact is difficult to present because of the wide range of salaries among state employees.

The House will have one more chance to pass legislation that will provide parental leave for state employees. House Bill 994, introduced by Kathy Byron, R-Lynchburg, has not yet been scheduled a hearing.

Currently, state employees must use personal leave, sick leave and then they may enroll in short-term disability to take paid leave to care for a new child. State employees may also take up to 12 weeks of unpaid family or medical leave.

“Our current policies are inadequate, forcing mothers and fathers to take sick leave or short-term disability, and even then they may not receive 100 percent of the paycheck they deserve,” said Cox. “No mother or father should have to use accrued benefits, which they may need at another point, to care for their child and live out the joys of parenthood.”

The House has also defeated a bill that would require Virginia businesses to offer paid medical and family leave to full-time employees in Virginia.