Gonzalez releases schedule for paid family leave legislation

Council member Lorena Gonzalez has published a draft schedule for development of a paid family leave policy for city employees over the next several months.

The schedule lays out several phases of work over the next several months, with work done jointly by Gonzalez’s office, the Office of Civil Rights, the Department of Human Resources, the City Budget Office, and the Council’s central staff.  Staff for Council members Herbold and Sawant, both of whom have shown a desire to be part of the development of a family leave plan, will also surely be involved.

April will be spent identifying issues to be addressed in legislation; the City Budget Office will be administering a survey and engaging with stakeholders to collect information. There are also several presentations scheduled for Gonzalez’s Gender Equity, Safe Communities and New Americans committee, including from an academic field expert and the Seattle Women’s Commission.

In the meantime, the city staff have begun work on a Workforce Equity Plan report that was commissioned by the City Council in the 2016 city budget. They will present the study’s methodology on April 13, give progress updates on April 27 and June 8, and deliver the final report on July 1.

May and June will be taken up with discussion of budget and financial models for paid family leave, including comparisons with other cities that have already implemented it.

The findings and recommendations of the Workforce Equity Report will be presented to the committee on July 13th. On July 28th, Council members Gonzalez and Bagshaw plan to host a “Paid Family Leave Symposium” at University of Washington with a diverse set of stakeholders.

Gonzalez hopes to have a first draft of legislation by August 10, with discussion, public hearings, and further refinement over the next month. The draft schedule calls for a possible vote in committee mid-September sending it to the full Council on September 19th.

There are several big questions to be answered in this long deliberative process. Certainly one of the big ones is “who is eligible?”  which ties in closely with the definition of “family leave” itself. Gonzalez and Herbold have clearly stated that their ambition is to look beyond 12 weeks of paid leave for mothers after they have a baby to look at fathers as well and the broader issue of leave for care of elder and sick family members. And all of that ties into the looming questions of how much it will cost —  and where the city will find the money to pay for it in a time when funds are also desperately needed to address the homelessness crisis.

The budget question is also driving the timeline for development of the legislation; budget requests for 2017 will be developed over the summer, reviewed in October, and approved (or rejected) in November. The schedule that Gonzalez published today is a draft and subject to change, but if the final paid family leave legislation slips out into mid October or later, it risks missing inclusion in the initial 2017 budget. The Council has ways around that, including setting aside the funds until the policy is complete, but last November’s discussions on Sawant’s proposal to set aside funds for a new 12-week parental leave plan showed several Council members’ reluctance to do so for a policy that will need to be financially sustained indefinitely into the future.

I would expect the City Budget Office to come back in June with a “core” proposal for 12 weeks of paid parental leave, and add-on options for broader aspects of the policy. Then, with numbers in front of them, the most difficult part of the conversation will ensue: coming to consensus on what they can afford to spend and where they want to take the money from. That will play out over the month of July, and it will be fascinating to watch.