House Democrats Unveil Compromise Family-Leave Bill

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WASHINGTON--Hoping to put together the two-thirds majority needed to override an expected veto, the House Democratic leadership last week signed on to a compromise family-leave bill that is somewhat more restrictive than the one approved by the Senate last month.

Even so, proponents were still not sure late last week whether their new proposal would draw enough support to overcome President Bush's opposition.

The Congress Failed last year to override Mr. Bush's veto of legislation that would have Forced employers with more than 50 workers to give employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or sick family member, or in the case of a worker's own illness.

The legislation passed this year by the Senate already contained a number of significant modifications from last year's bill, including provisions that would allow employers to exempt the highest-paid 10 percent of their workforce, tighten eligibility for part-time workers, and ease financial sanctions for violations.

The key provisions were approved by a 65-to-32 vote. With the support of three absent senators who favor the bill, proponents would have enough votes to override a veto. (See Education Week, Oct. 9, 1991 .)

But business groups remain opposed to mandatory leave, and proponents conceded last week that the Senate version of the bill would have to be further modified to win a two-thirds majority in the House.

Two House members last week told reporters that leading House Democrats would support their proposal for further changes that would phase-in the leave mandates and further restrict medical leave.

Further Restrictions

Backers of the compromise said substantial changes were needed to give House members political justification for shifting from their well established opposition to the bill.

"The House isn't the Senate," said Representative Timothy J. Penny, Democrat of Minnesota. "The House really has a history on this issue. Members have staked out positions."

Mr. Penny noted that he was among those members who "felt earlier bills didn't adequately respond to legitimate concerns of the business community."

The proposal drafted by Mr. Penny and Representative John J. LaFalce, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the House Small Business Committee, would cover immediately only those employers with 100 or more workers. Coverage would be extended to firms with 50 or more employees in two years.

Provisions mandating 12 weeks of leave for birth or adoption would not become effective until 6 months after enactment, under the compromise. In addition, the time required for medical leave would be cut to 6 weeks, and would be effective 18 months after enactment.

The proposal would also tighten the definition of a "serious health condition" qualifying for mandated leave and provide that only a doctor could approve medical leave.

Mr. Penny and Mr. LaFalce acknowledged that their restrictions may go too far for some liberal representatives, but not far enough for some conservatives.

"When neither side is entirely happy with the compromise, you have probably struck the right balance," Mr. Penny said.

But House aides said last week that the leadership might withdraw support for the proposal if it fails to win enough additional votes. In that case, sponsors would offer a bill identical to the one approved by the Senate. Avote is expected this week.

Education groups have backed family-leave legislation since language was added last year giving schools more leeway to ensure that their schedules would not be disrupted.

Vol. 11, Issue 11, Page 18

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