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House passes Healthy Families Act, 12 weeks paid leave waits for Carney’s approval

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A bill creating 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for most Delawareans clears its final legislative hurdles.

The bill was introduced last May, but needed changes to address concerns largely raised by the business community

The measure’s prime sponsor - State Sen. Sarah McBride (D-Wilmington) - offered a substitute bill to answer those concerns. It passed the Senate 14-7 in March and Thursday received the final House approval 29-11 with one House amendment.

The House amendment clarifies the bill does not cover seasonal businesses and the Department of Labor must submit a report on the program to the General Assembly by 2029.

House sponsor State Rep. Heffernan (D-Brandywine Hundred) says it will help the nearly 60 percent of Delaware workers who do not have access to any type of leave under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

“The vast majority of low wage earners have zero access to paid leave, meaning they're often forced to leave the workforce when a family member develops a serious health condition, or they become a parent,” Heffernan said. 

State Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman (R-Clayton) voted no.

“The only reason I’m not going to support the bill today is strictly the timing and the labor market,” he said. 

Other GOP opposition from State Rep. Richard Collins (R-Millsboro) said time-off is a personal choice, and people should plan ahead.

“We are teaching people, you don't need to have any responsibility to your company,” Collins said. “It's your desire, if you want off, take your time off, get paid for it. This is not a formula, folks, for advancement in your chosen profession.”

Any impact would not be felt for a few years. The Act does not go into effect until July 2025 giving business time to prepare. The amended bill now heads to Gov. John Carney.

State Sen. McBride - in a statement - called the bill's passage a "watershed moment for working families in the First State."

Thousands of families throughout our state are now one signature away from having the security and peace of mind that comes from knowing they will be able to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads even as they face some of the most common challenges that we all face as human beings,; said McBride's statement. "This major step forward would not have been possible without the hard work and persistence of advocates, business leaders willing to come to the table, statewide leaders and a bi-partisan coalition of legislators, and the overwhelming support of Delawareans.”

Gov. John Carney is expected to sign it, making Delaware the 10th state with Paid Family Medical Leave.

The United States is the only high-income country in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave nationwide.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.