Details of a bill proposing a paid family leave program in Maine were released Tuesday and advocates are bullish about the legislation’s chance of becoming law.

“This is a program whose time has come,” Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, the bill’s sponsor, said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m the most optimistic I’ve ever been in the 10 years since I’ve been working on this. I’ve never seen such a response, or such a groundswell of support.”

Daughtry said she’s been discussing the proposal with Gov. Janet Mills and her staff, business groups including the Maine State Chamber and local chambers of commerce, liberal advocacy groups and others.

“We have been working on middle grounds and finding a true compromise,” Daughtry said of efforts to strike a balance between providing a benefit to employees while minimizing the burdens for businesses, especially small businesses. Daughtry is a co-owner of Moderation Brewing in Brunswick. “As a small-business owner myself I understand that you have to do whatever it takes to keep the doors open.”

Peter Gore, spokesman for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said his group is “still analyzing” the proposal.

“We’re concerned,” Gore said. “This would be the most significant workplace law change in four decades. This program would have to work not only for employees, but for employers as well, and that includes not only the cost, but addressing issues around absenteeism in the workplace. It has to be something that’s workable, because this will affect every employer in the state regardless of size.”


John Bott, a spokesman for the Maine House Republicans, signaled that Republicans would oppose the bill.

Democrats, however, hold majorities in both the House and Senate, and Mills is a Democrat.

“I am optimistic we will have a robust paid family leave program that really works for all Mainers,” said Cate Blackford, public policy director of the Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal advocacy group. A public hearing is tentatively slated for May 25 at the State House. The Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Women’s Lobby had collected signatures to put the issue on the ballot, but have held off submitting petitions to do so to see what the Legislature accomplishes.


If the bill as currently drafted is approved this session, Maine employees would receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn baby or for other reasons, such as an extended illness or to care for a sick or disabled family member. Payroll taxes would begin in 2025, with the first benefits to be paid out starting in May 2026.

Other highlights of the bill include:


• The benefits would be paid for with a 0.7% to 1% payroll tax, with employer and employee each contributing 50%. Daughtry said these details could still change depending on public hearings and work sessions. If the tax were 0.8% and split evenly between employer and employee, a person making $50,000 a year would pay $200 extra in annual taxes. A business with 100 employees who earn an average salary of $50,000 would pay $20,000 a year into the program.

• The payouts would be based on a formula of 75% to 90% of the employee’s weekly wage, depending on whether the employee earns more or less than the state average weekly wage. The average weekly wage is $1,036, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

• Employers with 15 or fewer employees would be exempt from paying into the program, although employees – as well as the self-employed – still would be eligible for paid leave.

• The bill is designed to offer flexibility to small employers that have a large number of seasonal employees, so that jobs that are intended to be temporary do not cause a hardship for employers when leave is taken. Companies with 15 or fewer employees would not be required to hold open jobs for workers who take paid leave when there is a hardship for the company, such as a worker taking paid leave during the businesses’ peak operating season.

The language to determine whether a job has to be held open for small businesses could be a point of contention between liberal advocacy and business groups. Blackford said that while she agrees that highly seasonal employers should not be required to hold jobs open if an employee takes paid leave from a temporary job, the bill should not contain overly broad language that would allow small employers to punish workers for taking paid leave even when it’s temporary.

But Gore, the Chamber of Commerce spokesman, said small businesses should not have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to fill job openings when workers take paid leave. The phrasing of the hardship clauses is still being worked on, Daughtry said.


Mills has not yet taken a position on the bill, but Blackford said she is “encouraged” the governor is engaging on the details of the bill.

The governor has pledged to not raise taxes while in office, and so far has not backed any tax increases. Daughtry said the payroll deduction is not a tax, but a “premium contribution.” She argued taxes can be used for a number of public purposes, but because it’s a specific program, it’s not a tax. Gore, however, said it’s definitely a payroll tax.

If Maine passes the bill, it would join the 11 states and the District of Columbia that currently have paid leave laws on the books, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Laws also could be passed this year in Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and New Mexico. There is no national paid leave mandate, but a federal law dating to the 1990s requires companies to hold jobs open for workers needing to take unpaid leave. Most developed countries, including Canada, mandate paid family and medical leave.

About 25% of employees in the United States are currently covered by a paid leave benefit, as some employers have it as a benefit for their workers.

“Passing paid leave would be huge,” Blackford said. “This would be a game-changer for caregivers and families across the state.”

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