Lujan Grisham orders 12 weeks of parental leave for state workers

Published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, written by By Michael Gerstein:

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order allowing state employees to take up to 12 weeks’ paid parental leave, the Governor’s Office announced Tuesday.

The executive order would allow state workers such paid leave for the first time in state history, according to Lujan Grisham’s office. Parents who adopt a child also would be able to take the leave under the new policy, which takes effect Wednesday.

It covers workers at all state departments.

“Ensuring that families have time to bond with and care for their children is incredibly important,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement Tuesday.

“That this was not in place for state employees before is a shame, and I am proud that we are making the situation right,” the governor continued. “It’s important to me that we set a positive standard in state government, continuing to establish the state as family-friendly and taking action to ensure a healthy and responsible workplace for New Mexico state government families.”

The family leave order is meant to promote the bonding, care and well-being of newborn and adopted children, the executive order said.

The State Personnel Office now has to develop a statewide parental leave policy that will allow both mothers and fathers to take 12 weeks off of work if they’re a full-time employee and have completed a one-year probationary period of work, the order said.

Workers under temporary, emergency and term appointments are not eligible.

Katherine Freeman, president and CEO of United Way of Santa Fe County, said the extra time will help promote child well-being and be a major relief for people who are expecting a child or who have just had one.

“Ultimately, it will save us a lot of money and a lot of stress around child care issues,” Freeman said. “Many of our employed moms or dads have to go back to work very quickly. It avoids people having to do that and gives them 12 weeks … to not have to be finding child care, which is really, really difficult to do.

“Infant child care is really difficult to find,” Freeman added.

Prior to the governor’s executive order, Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, had sponsored legislation to create a fund for employees and employers from which people could draw to receive paid family leave to care for a newborn child or ailing adult.

Chandler has said it would help families who need to take care of their newborn children without being financially strapped from paying for infant child care.

The governor’s order does not require what amounts to a family leave insurance fund that employees would have to pay into, as Chandler’s plan did.

Kate Noble, a Santa Fe school board member who works in early childhood education for United Way, said she thinks having more paid time off not only relieves financial burdens on new families, it also could help both childhood and economic development.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Noble said. “The strongest thing we can do for our economy, I believe, is to give families and children a strong start around the birth of a child or the arrival of a child. And I think paid parental leave is an idea whose time has come, and it really does create a strong foundation for families, which affects everything from there on up.”

Beyond New Mexico, the issue of paid family leave has garnered national attention.

The White House held a summit on child care and paid leave in December during which Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, praised paid family leave and child care policy included in an annual defense spending authorization bill signed into law by the president.

The measure offers 12 weeks’ paid parental leave to all federal workers — more than 2 million people — for the first time. Congressional lawmakers are still split on extending paid family leave to all workers.

Some conservatives have criticized extending paid leave to federal workers because they say it could increase the deficit.

Ivanka Trump suggested this week on CBS’ Face the Nation that broader paid family leave legislation could be sponsored by Democrats in Congress. The last major federal policy on family leave was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which former President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993.

The law allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child.