Lawmakers spearheading an effort to create a paid family leave program in Maine said Monday that they will consider more compromises to bring the bill across the finish line this year.

Destie Hohman Sprague, executive director of Maine Women’s Lobby, speaks about paid family and medical leave during a news conference at the State House in February. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

And if the Legislature fails to pass the bill, they said, it’s only a matter of time before Maine voters do it through a statewide referendum vote.

Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick and Rep. Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston, said they are willing to make deals even on substantive details such as the payroll tax ceiling, which is currently set at 1% of wages.

“Come at us with any and all suggestions,” Cloutier said during a news conference Monday. Paid family leave advocates will host a rally Thursday at the State House that will be followed by a public hearing. Daughtry and Cloutier noted that the bill has undergone many revisions during the past two years, including a recent change to provide less generous payouts to higher-income earners.

Paid family leave would allow up to 12 weeks of paid leave for those who have a need – such as the birth of a child, their own medical condition or to care for a sick relative. The benefit amount would be 90% of the employee’s normal pay up to half of the average weekly wage in Maine, which currently stands at $1,036. For income earned above that amount, benefits would be paid at 75% of wages.

The program would be paid for with a payroll tax, the cost of which would be split evenly between employer and employee. Daughtry said the amount of the tax could fluctuate each year depending on estimated revenue going into the program. The proposed ceiling or maximum tax is 1% of a worker’s wages – but she projects that in most years the tax would be 0.7% or 0.8%. Whatever the tax rate, the employee and employer would each pay half.


All employees would be eligible to receive benefits, but employers with 15 or fewer workers would be exempt from paying into the program.

Business interests, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, have raised concerns that a paid family leave program would be onerous on businesses, especially small companies where an employee’s absence for 12 weeks would be a hardship.

Daughtry and Cloutier pointed out that they have worked to make the plan more business friendly by including hardship clauses. For instance, if an employee takes paid family leave at a highly seasonal business during the peak of the season, a business could apply for a hardship waiver and be exempt from holding the job open for the worker. The worker in that situation would still be entitled to full benefits.

Last week, Maine State Chamber spokesman Peter Gore said that the law would have to address “issues around absenteeism in the workplace. It has to be something that’s workable.”

Daughtry said paid family leave is often used by large businesses as a recruiting and retention benefit for their workers, currently leaving many small businesses unable to compete with a similar perk.

“This (bill) would be a massive assistance to small businesses who may not be able to offer their own plan,” said Daughtry, owner of Moderation Brewing in Brunswick.


She also noted that the Small Business Majority group – which has 260 Maine small-business owners as part of its national network – supports paid family leave.


Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, is so far the only Republican to co-sponsor the bill, but Democrats hold majorities in the House and Senate.

Still uncertain is whether Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, will support the bill. Mills has pledged to not raise taxes during her terms in office.

Republicans, aside from Bennett, have signaled their opposition.

“This proposal should be rejected – it is a massive tax hike on hard-working Mainers,” Rep. Josh Morris, R-Turner, said in a statement last week. “At a time when Mainers are dealing with record inflation, higher gas, energy, and grocery costs, it makes no sense to include another high-tax scheme on already struggling Maine workers and their families.”


Daughtry said that if the bill doesn’t pass, the liberal advocacy group Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Women’s Lobby have gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot. The groups held off submitting petition signatures this year to see what the Legislature would do.

“This is a policy that’s going to happen,” Daughtry said. “The question is will this be accomplished through collaborative work in the Legislature, or passed at the ballot box?”

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.

In addition, Vermont and New Hampshire have approved voluntary paid family leave programs, where employers and employees could opt into the program.


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