House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) is promoting expensive benefit expansions he calls “pro-family” in a trio of measures that propose paid maternity leave, a boost in child care reimbursement rates, and greater accommodations for pregnant workers.
“Wealthy Oklahomans have benefited handsomely from policies enacted the past few years by the majority party,” said Inman. “This state’s middle-class and working families deserve some relief” he declared.
House Bill 2897 would enact the Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers Act.
It would provide protections for pregnant women who request reasonable accommodations at work, under the advisement of their medical provider.
An employer would be required to reassign a pregnant employee to an available position if the employer or the employee “reasonably believes” that continuing in the current job “may cause injury to the employee or the fetus.”
A “reasonable” accommodation is defined as any effort “that would not impose an undue hardship on the operation” of the employer’s business.
“Undue hardship” would mean any action that requires significant difficulty or expense “when considered in relation to factors such as the size of the business, its financial resources and the nature and structure of its operation.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last March that pregnant workers can claim the same accommodations that employers grant to large numbers of similarly restricted workers.
House Bill 2900 would adjust child care reimbursement rates to meet market minimum standards. It also would adjust eligibility for use of the Child Care and Development Block Grant, to provide quality child care assistance to families.
Only 59 percent of the child care providers in Oklahoma accept families with assistance, Inman said, “largely because of the low reimbursement rate that centers receive.” Reimbursement rates to child care centers in this state are the lowest in the nation, records show.
More than 59,200 children received subsidized care in Fiscal Year 2015, enabling their parents to work or further their education, Inman said. Additionally, access to quality early-childhood education helps prepare children for elementary school.
House Bill 2895 would grant state employees paid time-off to bond with a new child.
The measure, entitled the State Employee Maternity Leave Act, would accord state employees “the ability to bond with a natural child or an adopted child without having to take a wage penalty or using compensated leave,” Inman explained.
An employee would be granted up to six weeks of paid leave, and the program would be financed through employee contributions to a disability plan, HB 2895 provides. The measure would apply equally to men and women.
“The vast majority of state employees are underpaid, compared to their counterparts in the private sector, and the state of the budget this year will guarantee that these hard-working employees will bear the brunt of budget cuts and layoffs,” Inman said.
Rep. Inman fails to include pensions and benefits in his calculation of “underpaid.”
“Many state employees, especially those in the Department of Human Services, do the work of two or three employees whose positions have been cut through belt-tightening measures over the last five years. This legislation will send a message to these employees that not only do we support them and appreciate the sometimes tenuous work they do, but we also support their families and understand the significance of the prospect of taking unpaid maternity leave in today’s economic climate.”
Under the provisions of HB 2895:
- Paid maternity leave would allow a state employee anywhere from partial to full wage replacement after the birth or adoption of a child.
- Reserving sick leave would allow employees to maintain preventive medical visits for themselves and their new child; the employee’s leave would not be exhausted through traditional maternity leave practices.
- Studies have shown that entities with paid leave programs have less turnover – “an expense the State of Oklahoma simply cannot handle during the current fiscal crisis, and a detriment to the services the citizens of this state rely upon,” Inman said.
No estimate of the economic costs of these additional regulations on business (or staff reductions expected) or the deficit impact on Oklahoma’s budget were provided.
Critics note that definitions of what is “reasonable” or “reasonably believed” and even “undue hardship” change with time and depending on the bureaucrat administrating the program.