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Paid-Leave Proposal Resurfaces in ND Legislature

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The pandemic has reignited debate across the country about the importance of paid family leave. In North Dakota, a legislative effort aims to establish a program that would protect workers after the crisis has subsided. (Adobe Stock)
The pandemic has reignited debate across the country about the importance of paid family leave. In North Dakota, a legislative effort aims to establish a program that would protect workers after the crisis has subsided. (Adobe Stock)
January 22, 2021

BISMARCK, N.D. - The weight of the pandemic is being felt by many North Dakota families, and supporters of a statewide paid-leave program are pushing a revised proposal they say would protect workers when they, or loved ones, need care.

State Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, has reintroduced a measure to create a paid-leave fund, facilitated by the state, for employers or their staff to contribute to. Unlike a previous proposal, contributions would be optional - and could be split by all parties, or covered by one of them.

Amy Jacobson, executive director of the group Prairie Action, said she thinks this added flexibility gives the bill new life.

"This lived experience that we've all had with the pandemic, and just really understanding the needs of our families in North Dakota," said Jacobson, "puts us in a position to be able to address that in a way that's empowering, really."

And although the program would be phased in, she said it gives hope to those who had to forgo paychecks because of the crisis.

The Greater North Dakota Chamber raised concerns about the previous plan requiring contributions. Meanwhile, another potential obstacle in the overall effort is a separate proposal, which would block local governments from enacting their own programs if the statewide effort falls short.

But Kristie Wolff, executive director of the North Dakota Women's Network, said she hopes enough lawmakers rally around Hanson's plan - noting it can help companies retain employees.

She said that's especially the case for smaller firms that want to help workers in these situations, but often can't afford to.

"This policy would make it possible to provide those benefits for employees and provide that culture," said Wolff. "And also will help us compete for good employees."

And supporters said the program could help independent contractors trying to survive in the "gig-economy." Jessica Petrick, a Realtor and small business owner in Bismarck, said now is the time to help women who have had to make difficult choices such life-changing events as childbirth.

"For example, I owned a salon, and a lot of the employees I had didn't have health insurance," said Petrick. "Some of them ended up getting pregnant, or whatever it was, and they didn't have any type of paid leave."

The bill does require an initial state investment of $5 million to help get the program started. That money would have to be paid back over a 20 year period.

Disclosure: Prairie Action ND contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND