AUGUSTA — Maine’s House of Representatives followed the Senate on Thursday and gave initial approval to a bill that would establish a statewide paid family and medical leave program.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, stills need to clear two final hurdles – getting the $25 million necessary to start the program and getting Gov. Janet Mills to sign it.

Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, rallies cheering supporters of paid family leave legislation on May 25 at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Mills, who has said she will not support tax increases, has not said if she will sign the bill, despite concessions she sought to make it more business-friendly.

The bill passed the House on a 79-65 vote that followed a 22-12 party-line vote in the Senate on Wednesday. It faces additional votes in each chamber.

One House Republican, Rep. Richard Bradstreet, of Vassalboro, suggested that the debate was far from over. Bradstreet said he planned to save his comments for a later date and urged his colleagues to do the same.

“There is such strong opposition to this bill and I get more all the time,” said Bradstreet, who offered an amendment that would have shifted more of the costs onto workers.


House Assistant Majority Leader Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston, said the bill she co-sponsored would create “the most collaborative and most comprehensive” leave program in the United States. She framed the bill as a compromise proposal informed by two years of study and stakeholder input from workers and businesses.

“For far too long, countless Mainers have been forced to make the impossibly difficult choice between taking time away from work to care for themselves or a loved one and continuing to work so they can financially provide for their families,” Cloutier said.

Cloutier said such a program would have benefited her family when they had to care for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease. Cloutier said she and her husband split caretaking duties while continuing to work, and her mother would sometimes go to work with Cloutier and read magazines in her office.

“I was blessed to have had this time with my mother, and paid family medical leave would have made it possible for both my husband and I to take the time we needed to care for her without having to choose between providing for our family or taking time or productivity away from our jobs,” she said.

If enacted, the program would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers who are sick or need to take care of newborns or other family members, among other reasons. Employees would have to work for a business for at least 120 days before they could take leave and return to their jobs when they came back.

The program would be funded through a new payroll tax of up to 1%, which would be split between employers and employees.


Bradstreet’s amendment, which was quickly voted down without debate, would have required employees to pay 75% of the costs, according to a copy obtained by the Press Herald.

Businesses with 15 or fewer employees would be excluded from paying into the program, but their employees would still pay into the program and qualify for benefits.

It’s expected to cost the state $25 million over the next two years, which is proposed to be funded through a one-time transfer, according to a fiscal note prepared by the Legislature’s nonpartisan staff.

The program, which will require 36 state positions, is expected to cost $18.5 million a year to administer beginning with the 2027 fiscal year. Those costs would be paid by contributions from employers and employees.

But the state also would see an additional $2.5 million in payroll costs since it also would have to pay into the program.

The projected cost means the bill will be placed on the special appropriations table, where it will compete for funding with more than 200 other bills. Only bills that are funded get sent to the governor and have a chance of becoming law.


Republicans were united against the bill in the Senate. It’s unclear how their unified opposition will impact negotiations over the next two-year budget, which needs Republican support to take effect at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

Mills has expressed reservations about the proposal and suggested changes to address concerns from the business community, many of which have been incorporated into the amended bill, including less generous benefit payouts and tougher eligibility requirements.

Some business groups have continued to oppose the proposal as a burden for small businesses, and opponents have instead called for a voluntary leave program similar to one in New Hampshire.

Mills previously said she would not support tax increases, but her deputy chief of staff told lawmakers at a public hearing that she’s also concerned that a potential referendum to enact a paid leave program if the Legislature does not act would be “a blunt policy” and more detrimental to businesses.

“(The governor) would prefer to see a proposal that is thoughtfully and responsibly crafted through a public legislative process, taking into account the complicated nature of this subject and the diverse viewpoints, and responding to the needs of all stakeholders even if that process is not completed this year,” Elise Baldacci said in written testimony last month.

Mills’ office has not said whether she will sign the bill if it reaches her desk.

“The governor continues to review the bill and its amendments, but she is encouraged by the committee’s changes and thanks them for their work,” Ben Goodman, a spokesperson for Mills, said in an email Wednesday.

If L.D. 1964 doesn’t pass or fails to get the governor’s signature, the Maine Women’s Lobby and progressive advocacy group Maine People’s Alliance have collected more than 80,000 signatures to place a proposal on a future statewide referendum ballot, likely in November 2024.

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