As Indiana continues to tackle the skills gap facing our workforce, efforts to better train and educate Hoosiers get most of the attention. However, helping our businesses improve the way they compete for workers by offering more attractive salaries and benefits is also crucial.
The types of benefits that attract highly-skilled workers vary from person to person, but one policy that many employees have come to value is paid family leave.
Recognizing the importance of needing time to care for a sick family member or newborn child, we are offering a bill during the Indiana General Assembly’s 2019 legislative session that would establish a voluntary paid family leave plan that any Hoosier employer or worker could join.
Under Senate Bill 496, the Indiana Department of Insurance would be tasked with creating and administering a voluntary paid family leave insurance plan with benefits covered by monthly premiums from participating employers and workers. Indiana employers could sign up for the plan to cover all their employees, while Hoosiers working for non-participating businesses could choose to join on their own. An analysis of a similar concept in Massachusetts found the per-employee premiums could be just over $3 per week.
Our state government would incur up-front costs to get the plan started, but once off the ground, the administration could be turned over to a private-sector company, meaning taxpayer dollars would not be needed to operate the plan on a long-term basis.
This policy would be a win-win for Hoosier workers and employers. Making paid family leave available to every worker in our state would be a great selling point to further attract and retain talented employees. It would be most beneficial to small-business owners, many of whom would like to offer paid family leave to their employees but worry they couldn’t compete financially if they added a new benefit to their labor costs.
For working Hoosiers, this is a huge pro-family initiative. Without paid time off, leaving work to care for a new child can be a huge financial hardship, especially since many new parents also have medical bills to pay from their delivery. For some young couples, lack of access to paid time off can even be an impediment to starting a family.
In the toxic climate of national-level politics, the issue of paid family leave has become a partisan weapon. Democrats are accused of weighing down small businesses with proposed mandates. Republicans are accused of not caring about working families. Our bipartisan proposal, however, is a common-sense middle ground that would support parents without forcing new regulations on employers.
If this idea becomes reality in Indiana, it could serve as a model for other states and lead the way on this issue without relying on a solution from the federal government.
Karen Tallian is a Democratic state senator from Ogden Dunes. John Ruckelshaus is a Republican state senator from Indianapolis.