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House Passes Family-Leave Bill; Veto Threat Looms

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WASHINGTON--The House last week passed legislation that would require employers to offer unpaid leave for workers to care for newborn children or to handle family medical emergencies, but the bill did not garner enough support to override a veto threatened by President Bush.

The "family and medical leave act" passed by 253 to 177, falling more than 30 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

The bill, similar to one the Senate passed last month, would require firms with 50 or more employers to offer workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of a newborn or newly adopted child, an ill family member, or a worker's own illness. Representative Timothy J. Penny, Democrat of Minnesota, decided not to bring a more watered-down version of the bill to the floor when it became clear that it would not help in overriding a veto. (See Education Week, Nov. 13, 1991.)

Proponents maintain family leave is needed to help provide a support structure for the preschool children of dual-income families and working single parents, as well as to respond to the medical needs of aging family members. They also argue that the United States is one of the few industrialized countries without such a policy.

The Bush Administration and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say the bill would burden businesses, interfere with employer-employee negotiated benefits, and harm productivity.

President Bush vetoed a somewhat more restrictive family-leave bill passed by the Congress last year. The Office of Management and Budget said in a statement last week that the Administration's position "remains unchanged since the President's veto" of that measure.

But Mr. Bush is likely to face political pressure to compromise in order to boost his domestic agenda.

"By signing this much-needed bill, the President can move beyond kinder and gentler rhetoric to demonstrate real caring for America's working families," said Judith L. Lichtman, the president of the Women's Legal Defense Fund.


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