Paid family leave joins the agenda as FL Legislature prepares to convene next month

State Capitol
The Historic Capitol, foreground, and Florida Capitol buildings. Colin Hackley photo.

Working families in Florida may have an opportunity to take paid time off to bond with a newborn, newly fostered, or adopted child under legislation filed for the regular legislative session next month.

As legislation to that end for federal workers has made progress in Congress, state lawmakers have filed similar bills that would require Florida businesses to provide three months of paid time off to new parents.

“Five states have already committed to paid family leave, with the federal government extending leave for federal workers this month,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who is cosponsoring the legislation, told the Florida Phoenix.

“Studies suggest that paid leave leads to healthier babies who have better outcomes later in life and enables parents to stay better connected to the workforce, which leads to higher earnings and long-term economic impact,” she said.

“Paid family leave is not just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.”

The Florida Phoenix previously reported on lawmakers reaching an agreement on paid family leave for federal personnel through the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual defense spending bill.

Under companion bills filed in the Florida House and Senate, Florida employers would have to provide paid family leave upon a child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. And employers would be mandated to notify employees about the availability of the family leave.

The legislation hasn’t been assigned to any committees yet, but lawmakers are pushing for approval during the legislative session that begins on Jan. 14. Republican lawmakers did not respond to request for comment as the holiday season approached.

“We call on Florida state senators and representatives to pass the Family Act and build a state that works for our families,” leaders of community- and faith-based organizations around the state said in a petition sent to lawmakers.

State Rep. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat, said she sponsored the House version of the Florida Family Leave Act, HB 889, in response to growing concerns in the state about working families having difficulty caring for new family members while retaining employment.

“The majority of employees in this state are unable to take family leave because they are unable to afford leave without pay,” the bill reads in its findings and intent section.

“Having paid time to care for newborn children is not only the right thing for working families; it is policy that is good for businesses, and good for Florida,” Davis said in a written statement.

“If we want to put families first in our state, we should be putting paid family leave first on our agenda in Tallahassee this session. I am proud to sponsor legislation for paid family leave, along with State Sen. Janet Cruz, that would do exactly that.”

Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, is the Senate sponsor. She joined Davis and other supporters at the Capitol in early December to announce the measure that they argue “would help thousands of working families.”

“Families should not have to choose between their job and bonding with their newborn child,” Cruz said in a written statement.

“The Family Act will provide thousands of working families with a sense of security, allowing them to take care of their child without having to leave the workforce.”

The proponents hope the legislation will draw bipartisan support.

“It seems like a common-sense issue,” said Matt Dailey, a lobbyist in Tallahassee for Faith in Public Life, a national network of nearly 50,000 clergy and faith leaders. He was among the signatories to the petition sent to Florida lawmakers.