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St. Pete mayor advocates for paid family, paternity leave for new parents statewide

Posted at 3:43 PM, Feb 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-19 18:19:13-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Mayor of St. Petersburg is becoming a big advocate for two Florida bills that could have a big impact on thousands of Florida Families.

Rick Kriseman recently expanded family leave time for St. Pete employees, both new moms and dads, from six weeks to eight weeks.

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Now, he’s advocating for similar changes to be made statewide.

Right now, there are two bills in the Florida Legislature, SB 1194 and HB 889, the Florida Family Act, that would offer paid family leave to new families in Florida across the board.

According to an editorial Kriseman wrote, only 13 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers. He also says the United States is the only industrialized country in the world without a formal policy that guarantees new parents family leave.

This is a policy that warrants attention at the state level. We have an opportunity, on a statewide level, to offer paid family leave to all Floridians, not just a select few. Paid leave to care for a new child is a policy that’s good for families, good for businesses and good for Florida. It is an affordable solution that is there for families when they need it -- and helps small businesses and companies by reducing costly employee turnover, by alleviating the cost of wage replacement through affordable insurance and by improving productivity. Inclusive paid family leave can help close the gender wage gap by helping women to stay in the workforce and rise to leadership roles.

“It’s time we catch up to the modern world, make Florida a leader on this issue and in our nation and start offering a real policy of paid family leave,” he elaborated.

Senate Bill 1194 and House Bill 899 would require businesses to allow employees to take paid family leave for up to three months after the birth, fostering or adoption of a child.

Both women and men would be eligible for paid leave under the Florida Family Leave Act.

"The need for paid family leave has increased as the participation of both parents in the workforce has increased and the number of single parents has grown," the Senate bill reads. "Despite knowing the importance of time spent bonding with a new child, the majority of workers in this state are unable to take family leave because they are unable to afford leave without pay."

To qualify for leave under the bill, an employee must have worked with their company for at least a year and a half, and must work an average of 20 or more hours per week.

St. Petersburg mom Catherine Freund considers herself lucky. Her job is giving her the time off she needs to spend with her newborn. The downside? Months without a paycheck. “Not only are we new parents, but our baby came early by 6 weeks. Knowing the 3 paychecks I was counting on are not going to be there adds stress I don’t need right now,” she explained.

Psychologist Dr. Lacy Chavis at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital works with the parents of newborns and says paid leave is crucial. “We see an increased breast feeding rate, increased mental health benefits for moms dad and children, a lower infant mortality rate and long term achievement rates,” she explained.

She says paid leave is especially important for parents of babies born premature or with medical issues. "Some of our families weren’t anticipating having a baby for another couple of months and they’re already eating up their leave time in the hospital, so when the baby is discharged, they may need to return to work immediately."

Mayor Kriseman is visiting the state capitol this week for different reasons, but plans to petition for state leaders to move the bills forward.

City Communications Director Ben Kirby was able to take advantage of St. Petersburg's paternal leave and says it made a big difference for his family.

“Having that time with my daughter Elle was truly special and something I wouldn’t trade for the world,” Kirby said.

The biggest opposition is expected to come from businesses, but advocates hope Florida can look to 7 other states, already requiring paid parental leave, for guidance.

If it passes, the new law would go into effect on July 1, 2020.