Almost 300 people across many industries submitted comments to the state that could impact the rules for Maine’s forthcoming paid family leave program, the state Department of Labor announced on Tuesday.

After releasing an initial draft of the rules, the Department of Labor invited the public to comment from the end of May until Monday. The agency has not yet published any findings or comments because it is still reviewing the feedback, spokesperson Jessica Picard said.

The state agency must review and act on those comments by early November and issue the final rules by Jan. 1, 2025.

Maine workers and many in the business community have been divided on the paid family leave program since well before Gov. Janet Mills signed it into law in June 2023.

The law imposes a 1% payroll tax, split evenly between workers and employers. The fund created with the payroll tax revenue would be used to pay up to 90% of regular wages for up to 12 weeks for workers who are ill or need to take care of newborns or other family members, among other reasons.

Employers with 15 or fewer workers are exempt from paying into the program, but workers at those businesses still will pay a 0.5% payroll tax and will be eligible for benefits. Workers would be able to utilize the benefits in May 2026, over a year after the payroll tax begins.

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The Legislature charged the state Department of Labor with formulating rules that detail how the program will be implemented. Those rules have ignited concern from business leaders.

Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, rallies cheering supporters of paid family leave legislation in 2023 at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which had urged lawmakers to reject the legislation, believes that some of the department’s specifications are not in compliance with the law. That includes proposals on how an employer must prove that an employee’s leave places undue burden on the business. The chamber also is concerned that the rules would unfairly apply to employers who already offer their own private paid family leave plans.

Those employers would still have to pay into the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Fund for the first 16 months, Patrick Woodcock, president and CEO of the state chamber said.

Woodcock and the chamber are calling for the department to rewrite the rules that he says do not comply with state statute. And Woodcock said in written comment to Luke Monahan, the Paid Family and Medical Leave program director at the Department of Labor, that he wants the state to partner with the chamber to do so.

“We appreciate the time and effort from the Department of Labor to implement this program under significant time pressure with financial contributions commencing in less than six months,” Woodcock wrote. “At the same time, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce believes … there are numerous areas in the proposed rules that require clarification. … These two provisions are fundamental to the Maine PFML statute and must be overhauled in the rules.”

The Department of Labor is now reviewing and considering thoughts shared in the comments. Based on the public’s input, rule makers must decide whether to finalize them or send a draft back out for public comment by Nov. 5.

When a public comment session is reopened, the department has to adopt rules within 120 days or by the time a law goes into effect – whichever comes first.

In this case, the state will have under two months to make a final decision.

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