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Pa. proposal pushes for time off to assist children's educations

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 11:07 p.m.

When Cindy Duch meets with teachers and other officials at her children's school, everyone is paid to be there except her.

“I understand that I'm the mother, but I'm already losing that time,” said Duch, the director of parent involvement at the Parent Education & Advocacy Leadership Center in the Strip District. “I shouldn't have to lose that pay, too.”

Proposed legislation would change that in Pennsylvania. A bill requiring parents and guardians to get paid leave to attend parent-teacher conferences, provide input on individualized education programs, and help with early intervention planning will get a debate at a hearing in Mt. Lebanon on Tuesday.

Joined by school superintendents and community leaders, state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, will lead a discussion from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the Municipal Building. He argues employees are more productive when they aren't worried about losing a job to occasional school-related absences.

The proposed Parental Involvement Leave Act says full-time working parents need four to 20 hours a year to accommodate such absences, especially families caring for children with special needs. The law would not exempt small-scale employers.

“This could take a big weight off parents' minds,” said Miller, a former educator and attorney who joined the House in May.

The United States is one of three countries without a mandatory, paid family-leave policy, joining Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

Representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Society for Human Resource Management have criticized the 1994 Family and Medical Leave Act that provides a 12-week unpaid leave for employees after one year on the job.

“The big question with these bills is how much it's going to cost,” said Fred Sembach, chief of staff for state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, vice chair of the Labor and Industry Committee where a similar bill, the Paid Parental Leave Act, was sent in May.

Filed by state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, Senate Bill 962 would require businesses with at least four employees to provide no fewer than 12 weeks of paid leave from the start of a pregnancy to one year after the birth, adoption or placement of a child. Labor committee Chairman Sen. John R. Gordner, R-Columbia County, said Leach's bill will likely not be considered this fall.

Children who spend time with parents early on are more likely to receive medical checkups, get immunizations and perform well in the classroom, Leach said, citing Bureau of Labor and Statistics studies. Lack of paid leave hurts employee productivity, morale and retention, he said.

“It's past time we update our standards to reflect the realities of the way we work and live in the 21st century,” said Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs for the National Partnership for Women and Families.

The organization supports a bill set to be introduced in the House and Senate next month that would provide 12 weeks of paid leave and seven paid sick days that employees could use toward caring for old or ailing family members.

“All our opinion data suggests voters of all ideological camps support this,” Shabo said. “This should be inevitable. It's just our legislators who get stuck.”

Downtown attorney Samuel J. Cordes said he sees more litigation arising from issues with maternity leave than almost any other.

“It's not that an employer doesn't want a woman to get pregnant, but it can be an inconvenience, an affront to their authority,” he said.

Megan Harris is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-388- 5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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