Community leaders and policy advocates gathered on the Louisiana Capitol steps Wednesday in support of landmark legislation that seeks to create a comprehensive paid family medical leave benefit for Louisiana workers. 

House Bill 596 by Rep. Aimee Freeman is being heard by the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on Thursday. It would follow the lead of nearly a dozen states that have created programs to allow workers to take paid leave from their jobs after a birth or adoption, or to care for themselves or a sick family member. 

The United States is the only industrialized country to not offer paid family leave benefits to workers, leaving it to states to ensure this much needed support is available for families.

Shelina Davis, CEO of the Louisiana Public Health Institute, recalled a time earlier in her career when she benefited from being able to take a full month of paid leave to deal with a personal health crisis. “Currently this is not an option, to be paid while on medical leave, for a significant portion of the workforce in our state, particularly women, people of color and lower-wage workers,” Davis said. 

Dr. Veronica Gillispie-Bell, an obstetrician and gynecologist and associate professor for Ochsner Health, said the 11 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted paid leave policies have seen significant benefits. 

They have found that when we have paid medical leave, we have decreased (hospital) readmissions for moms and babies,” Gillispie-Bell said. “We have decreased postpartum depression. We have decreased infant mortality and we have decreased low birth weights and preterm births, specifically amongst Black mothers. These are all outcomes that need to be improved in Louisiana.”

Renee Antoine, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Women’s Policy, said paid leave is a key part of ensuring economic security for women and families. “This includes having a state minimum wage, ensuring that men and women are paid equally for their time and diligence at work and also making sure that we have paid family and medical leave,” Antoine said. 

The vast majority of Louisiana workers do not have access to paid leave benefits, and those who have such benefits are likely to hold the highest-paying jobs. House Bill 596 provides an affordable solution.

“With modest contributions from workers and their employers, Louisiana can ensure that the vast majority of workers are covered by a paid leave policy that lets them take up to 12 weeks off to welcome a new child into their home or care for themselves or a family member with a serious illness,” said Stacey Roussel, deputy executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project. 

Paid family and medical leave is also an affordable and effective tool for businesses, with benefits having either a neutral or positive effect on productivity and profitability. 

“Paid leave is also a major win for the business community who can retain dedicated employees,” said Frankie Robertson, founder and president of the Amandla Group. “It can prevent employers from absorbing high turnover costs and spending valuable time and resources training new employees who eventually may face the same situations.” 

House Bill 596 will be heard in the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in House Committee Room 5. Click here to watch the committee hearing, and click here to read more about how paid family and medical leave would benefit Louisiana.