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Bill would require paid family leave in Ohio

“The threat of a coronavirus outbreak underscores yet another reason why having a paid family leave program is critical,” state Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, said in a news release.
The Capitol Building for the state of Ohio. (Getty Images)

COLUMBUS — State lawmakers are considering a bill that would create a state-run, paid family leave program for employers in Ohio.

But it is not clear whether the Democrat-sponsored bill is likely to proceed in the Republican-led state legislature. A state committee has had a pair of hearings on the bill, which was introduced last year.

The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program would provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave insurance benefits to employees. House Bill 91, sponsored by state Reps. Janine Boyd, D-Cleveland Heights, and Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, would require employers to deduct premiums from employee wages and remit those premiums to the state.

“While more companies are beginning to offer their own versions of paid leave, it’s not nearly enough to support families in Ohio,” Heather Whaling, founder and president of Columbus-based Geben Communications, said in prepared testimony to the House Insurance Committee.

“A funded, statewide policy will accelerate progress,” Whaling added. “Access to paid leave shouldn’t be the luck of the draw. It should be a right for every worker in this state.”

The state would pay for the program by charging premiums to employees. Independent contractors could choose to participate in the program.

While the program should, in theory, be financially self-sufficient, if it does not collect enough to cover costs, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) “may request an appropriation to cover those costs,” a Legislative Service Commission (LSC) review concluded.

Additionally, the “total amount to implement and administer the program and a premium and benefit information system is unknown at this time,” the LSC concluded. If approved, the bill could lead to a reduction in state income tax revenues.

The bill, as drafted, also creates a criminal penalty for companies that fail to remit premiums withheld from employee wages. It would also allow an employee to sue an employer that takes an “adverse employment action” for participating in the program.

Now, with worries about a coronavirus outbreak in Ohio, Boyd and Boggs say a lack of paid family and medical leave to all employees could pose a public health threat.

“The threat of a coronavirus outbreak underscores yet another reason why having a paid family leave program is critical,” Boggs said in a news release. “We know the risk of a full-blown outbreak increases when people go to work sick, but too many Ohioans can’t take the hit to their paycheck to stay home. Unfortunately, without a paid leave program too many Ohioans will be forced to work and potentially expose their coworkers to illness.”