Michael Cook: Real Family Values Legislation

by Michael Cook ([email protected]) 273 views 

“Family values” is a catchphrase that candidates and politicians often use in an attempt to show they are in touch with the voters. If we’ve heard that phrase once, we’ve heard it a billion times.

Unfortunately, all too often some of these candidates who repeat the “family values” phrase ad nauseam get elected and support legislation that contradicts their catchphrase. Like voting against providing affordable health care, voting to cut education funding or opposing increasing access to Pre-K programs. Quality and affordable health care, good wages and a strong public education system are just some of things that I believe fall under real family values.

Today, I thought we’d review three bills currently in consideration at the General Assembly that exemplifies what family values truly are – taking care of families. All three bills are sponsored by Democratic state legislators.

Democratic State Representatives Greg Leding and Clarke Tucker are sponsoring separate pieces of legislation that provide for paid maternity leave for Arkansas workers. Paid maternity is definitely a real family value.

The United States is the only “first world” country that does not either provide paid maternity leave or require businesses to do so. It’s sad to think that moms in Russia receive paid maternity leave, but somehow the U.S. can’t get its act together to help American mothers.

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, parents of newborns can take 12 weeks off from their jobs to take care of the child. The FMLA also allows time off for an employee to take care of a sick relative, but in all instances it is unpaid leave.

Clarke Tucker filed the most recent bill dealing with paid maternity leave. Tucker’s bill would allow for state employees to receive six weeks of paid maternity leave of up to $500 per week.

I asked Tucker why he believes this bill is needed and what he hopes it would accomplish. Here’s his response:

“The goal of providing paid maternity leave is to protect the health of mothers and their new babies, to minimize the difficulties that working women face as a result of having a child, to allow a mother time to nurture her new child, and to promote financially secure families and family values. Studies show that providing paid leave increases worker productivity because it reduces turnover and, absenteeism and boosts morale. Maternity leave also reduces infant mortality rates and postpartum depression and improves infant health during the period of leave.”

That sounds like real family values to me.

Tucker says the fiscal impact for his bill to the state is $354,000 a year. Tucker also raises a good point about infant mortality especially when you consider Arkansas has the 12th highest rate of infant mortality in all the 50 states.

Representative Leding has a much broader and more detailed paid leave bill that could apply to all Arkansas workers if passed. Leding’s bill not only applies to maternity leave, but would also allow workers to take paid leave to take care of a close relative with a serious health condition.

Leding’s bill allows a business to receive a state tax credit of 25% of the wages paid to an employee on family or medical leave. Leding’s bill caps the maximum tax credit amount a business can take at $4,000 per employee per tax year.

A state tax credit for business offering paid maternity or medical leave is a fantastic way to encourage employers to provide the much-needed benefit for Arkansas’s workers.

Allowing workers time off to take care of a sick relative or a newborn, but not become bankrupt in the process sounds like real family values to me.

Finally, State Representative Warwick Sabin is the lead sponsor on a bill that I believe also exemplifies real family values. Sabin’s bill, commonly known as the Earned Income Tax Credit, would provide tax relief to low-income families. Many of the people who would be helped by the passage of the EITC did not receive much, if any, tax relief in Asa Hutchinson’s recent $100 million tax cut.

Representative Fred Love sponsored a similar bill in 2013, but unfortunately it could not get out the Republican-controlled House Tax and Revenue committee.

Sabin gave an explanation of how the EITC works:

“It provides targeted tax reductions to low-income families in a way that rewards work because it is based on earned income such as salaries and wages. It utilizes a sliding scale based on income levels and the size of the family, and the tax credit is reduced as the income levels increase.”

Targeted tax credits for working, low-income families? Sounds like real family values to me.

For full disclosure, I have been a political consultant in the past for Reps. Sabin and Tucker and I’m glad to see them taking up these important causes.

There are other bills making their way through the legislative process that also help families, exemplifying true family values and in future posts we’ll likely cover more of them.

In the end, Democrats should be proud that they are offering concrete examples of how they’re fighting for real family values. And hopefully, for the sake of Arkansas’s families, these three bills will eventually become law.