A bill that would increase the amount of unpaid maternity leave time available to state employees passed out of the Oklahoma Senate on Monday.
Senate Bill 549 by State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, would increase unpaid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 20 weeks. The bill failed a Senate vote last week, but Holt brought the bill back to the floor on Monday. It passed the second time, 31 to 8.
The Journal Record’s Catherine Sweeney reports Holt believe the House will likely make changes to the legislation to “make it more palatable,” perhaps by shortening the period of leave available or making the unpaid provision more explicit.
During the bill’s Senate committee hearing, Holt argued that because Oklahoma can’t pay competitive wages, it should compensate with more competitive benefits. The measure failed on the floor March 15, with 20 voting in favor and 22 opposed.
Human resources consults have endorsed the bill. Luna Sol Consulting president Heidi Hartman says flexibility is increasingly important to workers in the private sector. She said all companies are offering more generous leave since she began her career two decades ago, and people are more comfortable talking about time-off policies.
Hartman believes that’s especially true for companies that want to keep “good folks,” and for millennials.
“Boomers would say, ‘We’re going to work like a dog, and you’re going to recognize me,'” she said.
Gen X and millennial workers watched their parents do that and then sometimes get laid off anyway, she said. It affected them. They now want more time off, and not just for maternity leave. Companies are seeing success when letting people take time off to volunteer or work with nonprofits.
“Those things are becoming more and more important,” she said.
Jonathan Small of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs criticized the bill, saying it could produce logistical problems for agencies.
“There’s no doubt that the proposal is well-intentioned,” he said. “But it would significantly hamstring the availability of core government function to keep core positions staffed, which would directly impact Oklahomans depending on those services.”
The bill's title was stricken, meaning the Senate will have the opportunity to vote on it again if it passes the House.
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