STL Post-Dispatch: MoDOT expands paid parental leave, legislators mull their own plans

By Austin Huguelet St. Louis Post-Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY • The Missouri Department of Transportation announced Thursday it would be following Gov. Eric Greitens’ lead in expanding paid parental leave to its employees.

Primary caregivers will receive six weeks of paid leave following a birth or adoption; secondary caregivers will get three weeks.

The move is identical to an executive order Greitens issued Monday extending the benefits to all state executive branch employees under his control or the purview of his appointees. 

 

Greitens’ order did not apply to MoDOT, an agency led by a commission that appoints the department director. 

“I appreciate this action by the governor,” MoDOT director Patrick McKenna said. “We are pleased and proud to follow his lead.”

It’s not yet clear how much the move will cost, but MoDOT spokesperson Robert Brendel said the department’s current budget could absorb the expense.

The measures create additional weeks of available paid leave for employees on top of their sick leave and vacation.

They both come just weeks after Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway sent a letter to Greitens asking him to approve two measures expanding family leave for state employees recommended by his predecessor, Gov. Jay Nixon.

One would have let employees use their sick leave to take time off for parental bonding; currently it can only be used for pregnancy, childbirth or recovery.

The other would have only applied when both parents were state employees, granting each person 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave instead of requiring them to split 12 weeks.

13 percent of Americans had access to paid family leave at work in 2015, according to the Department of Labor. The United States has one of the least generous parental leave policies among industrialized nations.

The governor’s order also encouraged other statewide officials, the legislature and the judiciary to adopt similar policies. 

House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said Thursday he’s interested in bringing a family leave plan to the 400-plus employees of the House.

“We’re going to work on rules for the House to mirror the action the governor took,” Richardson told reporters Thursday.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, was more cautious, saying he wasn’t sure whether his chamber was still examining whether it could make rules appropriating money to itself. 

As for making it a statewide law affecting the private sector, Richardson said he didn’t know unsure there is enough time in the legislative session to get anything in place this year.

Two proposals have been filed in the House that would put similar policies for all Missouri workers on the 2018 ballot for a public vote.

A measure sponsored by Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, would grant six weeks of full paid leave per year for reasons including parental bonding within a child’s first year and serious health conditions. Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, has proposed granting eight weeks at 67 percent pay for similar reasons.

Both of those would require employees to pay 0.25 percent of their average weekly pay into an account managed by the state treasurer. 

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, who filed a Senate version of McCreery’s bill, said after two years, the account would likely have enough money to begin paying out benefits.

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