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Hawaii's 20,000 Federal Workers Poised To Get Paid Family Leave Through Defense Bill

Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force
Department of Defense

A provision in the annual defense appropriation bill authored by Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz would grant 2 million federal workers 12 weeks of paid family leave.

The national defense authorization bill is an annual appropriation that provides funding to the Department of Defense for everything from ship building contracts to overseas contingency operations.

The bill is often a political football, but this year lawmakers appear to have reached a bipartisan compromise that offers something for both sides of the aisle. Republicans will get a new branch of the U.S. military, the much-lauded Space Force, to oversee operations in outer space, currently managed by the Air Force.

On the Democratic side, the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act would guarantee 12 weeks of paid family leave for the federal government’s 2 million civilian employees, 20,000 of whom work in Hawaii.

Schatz wrote that provision into the legislation. He told HPR this week that he believes paid family leave should be a federally-guaranteed right afforded to all public and private sector American workers, but with the largest labor force in the country, the federal government is a good place to start.

Hawaii’s senior senator also said that paid family leave can actually save employers money by reducing employee turnover and the associated hiring and training costs.

“Not only is this the humane thing to do for families, for the parents and the newborn babies, this actually saves the government money. This saves employers money in the end,” Schatz said, predicting that the private sector would eventually follow suit.

According to Congressional Research Service, 16 percent of private sector employees had some kind of paid family leave in 2018.

The 2020 NDAA has already been passed by the House, and is expected get a vote in the Senate before the Christmas recess.

The bill is one of several rare, bipartisan agreements on the verge of being reached by lawmakers as the year comes to a close. Earlier this week, Democratic lawmakers announced they would support the Trump Administration’s new North American trade agreement, after a year of negotiating with Republicans.

Congress still needs to agree on a general spending bill to fund the rest of the federal government. Last year, political deadlock on a funding bill caused a 35-day shutdown of the federal government, the longest in U.S. history.

Schatz said the appropriation bill is 95 percent complete and lawmakers hope to process the bill next week, which would avoid a shutdown.

But he cautioned that nothing in the nation’s capital is certain at the moment.

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