Covering The Capitol: Lawmakers Debating Paid Maternity Leave Legislation For State Employees

Lawmakers wrapped up session and sent the governor a $12.8 billion budget. The budget includes maternity leave for teachers, but a separate bill opens it up to state employees

Sunday, May 28th 2023, 10:15 pm

By: News 9, Haley Weger


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Lawmakers wrapped up session and sent the governor a $12.8 billion budget. The budget includes maternity leave for teachers, but a separate bill opens it up to state employees

Paid maternity leave was an idea with bipartisan support in both the house and senate all session, but there was debate on what the final legislation would look like.

“This is a great way to say women, we value you. Families, we value you,” said Sen. Kristen Thompson, (R ) Edmond.

“The opportunity we have today is to look at moms, to look at babies, to give them six weeks to bond, and to let them heal from the traumatic event of bringing new life into this world,” said Sen. Carri Hicks, (D) OKC.

Senate bill 16 will give six weeks of paid maternity leave to state employees. Even in the final days of the regular session, lawmakers were still debating the bill.

“For some of you, this is the fifth time you've voted on paid maternity leave for state employees,” said Sen. Jessica Garvin, (R ) Duncan.

The author of the bill, Senator Jessica Garvin, says offering this for state employees is a must for the mental health of Oklahoma mothers.

“As a woman who struggled with postpartum depression, those first six weeks of life were extremely important, not only for the baby but for my mental health,” said Sen. Garvin. “As a woman who has had three children, it's hard to be a new mom. So, when we have women who have a better mental health perspective on life and can take better care of their children, they're going to be in a better place to go back into the workforce."

Some senators say the idea is great, but that it shouldn’t just be offered to mothers. Senators Mary Boren offered the idea of “family leave,” for others who may be taking care of the newborn.

“The flaw in this bill is that it says maternity, it doesn't say parenting leave. There are fathers that need six weeks of paid leave in order to retain a fair competition for labor,” said Sen. Mary Boren, (D) Norman.

Other senators say it provides incentives for Oklahoma mothers to move from the private sector into the public sector and say it will continue to grow government.

“This bill creates unfair competition with the job market in Oklahoma,” said Sen. Shane Jett, (R ) Shawnee.

“It just seems patently unfair that we would confiscate the money from so many Oklahomans that work so hard that do not have this benefit,” said Sen. Rob Standridge, (R ) Norman.

A small business owner herself, Senator Kristen Thompson says six weeks of paid maternity leave is already the norm for most private businesses.

“My husband and I, we offer these benefits to our employees because we value life, we value women, we value families and we want to offer this as a resource to show that we value the employee,” said Sen. Thompson.

Even with debate in the senate, the bill passed with overwhelming votes in both chambers and was sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law Friday.


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