A better plan for family and medical leave

Connecticut has joined five states — California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York and Washington and the District of Columbia — by passing a law guaranteeing paid family and medical leave. The bill wobbled a bit but eventually passed in the House 79-69 and was signed into law by Governor Ned Lamont. This is a brand new 0.5 percent tax hike on your weekly earnings that will go directly into a state FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) trust fund. 

The legislation requires all employees in Connecticut to participate. Wait! Did I say all? I'm sorry, I meant to say all employees exceptstate and municipal employees. So: State union paychecks will remain the same, but your weekly check will get a little smaller, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. 

How do you qualify for 12 weeks of paid leave? If you or your spouse has a child, or you or a family member has a serious health condition, you can qualify for time off. If someone you consider family (but is not necessarily family) is sick, you can qualify. If there's an emergency arising from a family member on active duty, or if you are serving as an organ or bone marrow donor, you can also use the paid leave. Most of these are seemingly valid reasons to seek time off. 

But— another big, state-run bureaucracy, one that many expect will hemorrhage money before the ink dries on the bill, is not my idea of responsible governing. Most opponents of the law have taken the position that it will be grossly underfunded and will quickly need additional revenues to make it sustainable. It also opens up a variety of loopholes for fraud and abuse. 

So, if my fifth cousin on my mother’s side is having her appendix out, do I get three months off? The answer is ...yes! 

I'm not insinuating that paid family leave is a terrible idea. Here are some numbers that may surprise you: Eighty-five percent of Americans don't have access to paid family leave, and 62 percent of households have both parents in the workforce, which creates an often-impossible situation when it comes to caring for a newborn. Each month in which at least one parent is home an infant’s mortality rate can drop up to 13% and a mother’s mental and physical health dramatically stabilize. 

These are things we should want as a society; in fact, we actually do want them. Seventy-four percent of registered voters support this idea. However, Connecticut's version of paid family leave appears to be another legislative nightmare. 

Normally, I would be in favor of giving more power to each individual state, but in the case of paid family leave, the idea of a federal program makes more sense. A conservative approach for paid family and medical leave would impose no new taxes, no business mandate, no new entitlement, and it would be completely optional. Assuming we fix Social Security — and we must — the solution to paid family and medical leave is simple. 

You’d be allowed to take off up to three months per calendar year for a newborn or adopted child, a medical emergency, or family emergency. In fact, you would have a lot more freedom to dictate what you determine to be important enough to take time off for, because essentially you would be using your own money on your own borrowed time. 

Essentially you would borrow days against your future Social Security entitlement. Your retirement clock would simply move to mirror the time you’ve taken off. This would shift the burden and responsibility back to the individual and eliminate all the peripheral issues this new law would encounter, including fraud. You can take the time off but now you must be more responsible, since it would be delaying your eventual retirement. 

So: Connecticut is once again asking me to fund yet another program I may never use when there are clearly other options available? Let us strive for some personal responsibility and common sense. Individuals should be on the hook for the decisions that they make, and even if or when life deals them a bad hand there should be options at their disposal that don't rely on other people's tax dollars .We have become a micromanaged, government-controlled nanny state. 

Lee Elci is the morning host for 94.9 News Now radio, a station that provides "Stimulating Talk" with a conservative bent.

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