I know firsthand the challenges of providing care to loved ones while trying to manage all the unexpected ups and downs that are simply facts of life. After all, I raised five stepdaughters (yes, five), helped look after my two aging parents and cared for my late husband, Stan, after his debilitating stroke until his death in 2014 – all while working full time. I deeply and personally understand the value of a paid family and medical leave policy for Maine.

Crafting a statewide policy that is as generous as possible while balancing the operational needs of our diverse workforce and employment base, and while limiting – to the greatest extent possible – increased costs on Maine businesses and workers is a complex challenge, particularly in a state like ours.

From family farms to corner stores to large companies, national retailers, nursing homes, research and educational institutions, from people working in high-rise office spaces in downtown Portland to those working remotely in rural Aroostook County, the nature of Maine’s workplace is as varied as our weather. And while a growing number of states have enacted paid family and medical leave bills, no two states have enacted the same law. Their policies differ in who is covered, what events are covered, how the program is funded and many other respects.

So, while we could look to other states to learn from their experiences, I urged the Legislature to craft a policy that is tailored to Maine – one that balances the unique and disparate needs of Maine families and businesses.

To that end, as the Legislature considered the proposal, I urged them to provide greater flexibility so that businesses could accommodate as many different situations as practical because, like in so many things, we wanted to achieve a bill that provides the best help to working people in Maine, while avoiding the inevitable law of unintended consequences. To their great credit, the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Mattie Daughtry and Rep. Kristen Cloutier, revised the bill to address many of my concerns.

Of course, I still am concerned about added costs on Maine people, regardless of whether that cost is considered a fee-based service or payroll premium, as proponents argue, or a wage tax, as opponents argue. After all, I have repeatedly said I am opposed to increasing taxes. But, I live in the real world – and I have to measure my concerns about those costs against the prospect of a referendum that would likely result in a payroll tax anyway – a tax that would be exacted in a way that is not responsive to the interests of Maine’s economy, Maine’s workforce, or our thousands of small businesses.

Is this bill perfect? No. But no compromise legislation ever is. With the changes adopted by the Legislature, however, I believe the bill strikes a balance that guarantees the benefits for working families in a way that is financially stable over the long term while avoiding significant hardship on the co-employees, employers, customers and clients who depend on continuity and stability in our workforce and economy.

Recognizing that, and recognizing that a referendum is not the way we should consider this complicated policy proposal, I will sign the budget agreement that includes paid family and medical leave. While there is more to do to iron out more details during its implementation, this bill is a historic victory for working people and families across Maine.

It is my hope that implementing a paid family and medical leave policy in Maine that accommodates potential hardships for employers will make it easier for people to balance work with life’s unexpected challenges, like caring for a sick child or an aging parent, a change that will support our workforce and strengthen our economy in the long term.

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