Medical Leave Reform Would Give Families More Flexibility 

Last Thursday, I had the honor to introduce the Wisconsin Family Medical Insurance Act to reform Wisconsin’s Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) with my Assembly colleague Representative Sondy Pope (D – Cross Plains). Our proposal will make Wisconsin’s current FMLA more flexible so people can take off to care for their grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and eligible family members deployed overseas by our military.  Currently, the law allows people to take up to 8 weeks off to care for their child, spouse, domestic partner or parents. In addition, the threshold requiring employer participation in the FMLA would be reduced from 50 employees to 25 to allow more Wisconsinites to able to take advantage of this family friendly program. We also expand the time an employee can take off from work for up to 12 weeks.

A prime component of our proposal will be the creation of the Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Insurance Act. This voluntary, employee paid for program will allow an employee to contribute a percentage of their paycheck into a trust fund that will be used to compensate them a percentage of their pay while they are on family or medical leave. The Department of Workforce Development in consultation with the Office of Commission of Insurance will determine the percentage each participating employee contributes.

According to the United States Department of Labor most workers in the private sector service industry do not have paid sick leave. In addition, many lower waged workers cannot afford to take a sick day because they simply can’t afford to miss a day’s pay. Studies have shown that workers without access to paid sick leave are more likely to get injured on the job and expose co-worker and customers to contagious diseases.

This reform will give more people the option of taking time off to care for sick family members or themselves when they have a serious health condition that prohibits them from working while still receiving some income.

I had to take unpaid leave from work when my son broke his leg when he was 12 years old. He was in hip spica cast, which is basically a body cast for 9 weeks. Living in a rural area we didn’t have access to home health care workers and it would have cost more to hire one than I was making. I was fortunate that my husband had a good union job and although our household income was reduced we were able to get by. Had my husband not had a good job or if I had been a single parent it would have been economically crippling to my family. That was 28 years ago and today many employees are in this same situation and unable to take a family or medical leave. 

This year we celebrated Social Security’s 80th Anniversary, the 50th Anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid and Wisconsin’s widely successful SeniorCare program celebrated its 13th Anniversary. All these programs have been a great success and illustrate how government programs can help make people’s lives better. Unfortunately, in Wisconsin over the past four and half years our Governor has focused on getting rid of many of our well run programs.  I’ve fought him and with my colleagues we’ve been able to save SeniorCare but I believe there is still more we must do.  We will continue to bring forth ideas and be proactive in introducing legislation to help make the lives of the hard working people in Wisconsin better.  That’s why I am very proud to be leading the push in the State Senate to expand our Family Medical Leave Law and create the Wisconsin Medical Leave Insurance Act.