Negotiations over Washington, D.C.’s Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 have stalled after criticism of the bill’s proposed funding plan devolved into an exchange between Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) at the Council-Mayor breakfast meeting Oct. 25.
The act, which has faced criticism from Bowser in the past due to its proposed cost, which she considers too high, would guarantee workers employed in the District up to 12 weeks of annual paid family and medical leave. Under the proposed plan, paid leave benefits would be funded through a business payroll tax. A vote on the bill has been delayed since last year due to Bowser’s doubts about its funding and cost to city taxpayers.
Mendelson said he hopes the bill will be voted on by Nov. 15, but Bowser noted it would take three weeks for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer to score the bill, thereby pushing the vote back. In order to pass, the bill must be voted upon twice before the legislative session ends in December.
At the meeting, Bowser questioned Mendelson on why he had not led a more transparent process in finalizing the details of the bill. Mendelson said his process has not been secretive, but rather Bowser’s staff has been uncooperative and unwilling to meet with his office in order to discuss the bill’s specifics.
Director of Communications for Mendelson’s office Lindsey Walton said the development of the bill has been open for public comment since its introduction last year, and Bowser has not worked well with Mendelson.
“The Council has been more than transparent when it comes to this legislation. There have been three public hearings on the bill and there was a discussion draft circulated along with the draft print of the bill, which is virtually never done with regard to council legislation,” Walton wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The Chairman has collaborated with several other Councilmembers in the crafting of the final version of the bill.”
Bowser later requested that Mendelson release more specific information on the bill in order to properly inform her office as well as his fellow councilmembers on its funding, specifically how the act’s $400 million cost will affect taxpayers and business growth.
Communications and Community Outreach Coordinator for Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) Ashley Fox contended that deliberations on the bill have been cooperative and inclusive up to this point, and she has high hopes for the future of the bill. Silverman was one of the first proponents of the bill along with Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large).
“It’s been a pretty collaborative process so far. I think Mayor Bowser is interested in making sure that the public is included, but procedurally a lot of the next steps lie within the chairman’s office. So it’s a balance,” Fox said. “We are optimistic about a collaborative process going forward and I would say that it has been collaborative so far.”
Fox said the council is looking to alleviate business concerns while implementing the paid family and medical leave program.
“We’re really trying to think about what makes the most sense for a fair bill. So what does a fair bill look like? And what does a bill look like that still fits the needs of the people who really need it the most?” Fox said. “There has been a lot of conversation back and forth about how many weeks of leave is enough, how many weeks is affordable, and so what we’re really trying to do is incorporate as many concerns as we can.”
The Campaign for D.C. Paid Family Leave Manager Joanna Blotner said she would like to see D.C. officials working in a closer fashion to achieve the common goal of paid family leave. Blotner said she believes further changes to the District’s paid leave will be conducted in a more positive manner in the future.
“From our perspective, it would be nice to see all of our elected officials working together in the best interest for working families in D.C. and having everybody positively contribute to the conversation and how to make this the best possible paid leave program for the District,” Blotner said. “We’ve been really pleased with how Chairman Mendelson has been meeting with us.”
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