Connecting state and local government leaders
Legislatures are taking up important issues of key interest to companies and their employees.
WASHINGTON — A pair of state legislators on Monday encouraged human resource managers from across the U.S. to contact their lawmakers before employment bills are considered by legislatures.
Virginia Democrats could potentially take control of the state legislature this year—down one seat in both houses—and if they do one of the priorities will be looking at employment laws, said Delegate Mark Levine, a Democrat from Alexandria.
Speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management’s legislative conference, Levine said every year he introduces bills for paid family medical leave, allowing local governments to impose their own minimum wage, and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Virginia Republicans have “zero interest” in the proposals, Levine said, but it would be better for them and HR managers if they were willing to at least discuss the issues ahead of a possible Democratic takeover.
“We should be partners,” he said. “And you definitely should not be ignoring your state legislatures.”
The U.S. is one of only a handful of countries, along with Papua New Guinea and Suriname, that does not require employers to provide paid time off for new parents. At the state level only California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and Washington do.
Levine’s bill would have required companies to pay parents two-thirds of their salary, not 100 percent, in order to make it more palatable to Republicans, but it still hasn’t gained traction, he said.
Last legislative session, Delaware passed paid family medical leave legislation but only for state employees. State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, a Georgetown Republican, said she was disappointed with the law’s language because, as a former HR manager, she wanted to know specifics like if leave could be taken in separate stints and felt it was an unfunded mandate.
Delaware’s law provides 100 percent paid leave for 12 weeks, but it will put financial pressure on local school districts, which lack quality substitute educators and must pay a portion of the teacher on leave’s salary, Briggs King said. The legislation goes into effect April 1.
“Generally what happens is our state starts with the state before it goes over to the private sector,” Briggs King said.
The thinking behind the law is that it will help with recruitment and retention of hard-to-fill positions because salaries lag behind the private sector, she added, and many large employers already offer those benefits.
Both state legislators also agreed more needs to be done to reintegrate previously incarcerated people into the workforce to reduce recidivism.
Briggs King signed onto a bill offering employers tax credits for hiring previously incarcerated people.
His first legislative session in office, Levin introduced a bill that would have seen nonviolent drug crimes removed from a person’s criminal record after 10 years, but again it failed to win support.
Still, Virginia has the lowest recidivism rate in the country and Alexandria and Fairfax the lowest in the state, which Levine credits to strong partnerships between state and local governments and nonprofits like Arlington-based Offender Aid and Restoration.
“It’s all about retraining,” Levine said. “It’s all about reintegration.”
On other employment issues like workplace harassment, Delaware has found itself running up against federal law, Briggs King said.
“We certainly like to have state sovereignty,” she said. “But it would be nice if some of these decisions were made at the federal level, particularly when you’re in HR and you’re in a company that has a large footprint in more than one state.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.