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Senate Parental-Leave Bill Draws Veto Threat From Secretary Dole

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Washington--A Senate committee last week approved a bill mandating unpaid leave for child care and family illness, but without the amendments aimed at softening its impact on schools that were added to a similar House bill.

The Labor and Human Resources Committee approved the "family and medical leave act of 1989" by a vote of 10 to 6. Senator James M. Jeffords of Vermont was the only Republican voting in favor of the measure.

In a letter to the panel, Secretary of Labor Elizabeth H. Dole said she would recommend that President Bush veto mandatory-leave legislation. She said the bill under consideration "would impose needless rigidity" and "create a new and costly bureaucracy."

A White House spokesman, Alixe Glen, said late last week that Mr. Bush "has always said when the subject has come up that he does not think that federally mandated parental leave is a good idea."

Ms. Glen said the President instead "would encourage flexibility on the part of the employer to accommodate the needs of parents."

As approved, the Senate measure would entitle employees of businesses with 20 or more workers up to 10 weeks of unpaid leave every two years to care for newborn, adopted, or sick children or parents, and up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave each year for their own illnesses.

Employers would be required to continue providing health-care coverage for employees on leave.

The National School Boards Association initially opposed the House version of the bill, arguing that it would disturb policies crafted to minimize educational disruptions. The group withdrew its opposition last month, after the Education and Labor Committee adopted several amendments that would allow school boards flexibility.

Michael A. Resnick, associate executive director of the nsba, said he expected the same type of amendments to be introduced when the Senate bill reaches the floor for debate.

Among the amendments was a provision allowing school districts to follow existing policies in determining what constitutes an "equivalent employment position" when reinstating workers who return from leave. Another amendment would allow districts to require employees who take leave late in the academic term to stay out till the end of the term, rather than return for a few weeks.--ab

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