VACATION

McMaster and sponsors celebrate law giving state employees up to 6 weeks paid parental leave | Palmetto Politics

COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster celebrated a new law providing state employees up to six weeks of paid parental leave while its sponsors promised to push for more next year.  

“This is a great step forward,” McMaster said Aug. 25 at the Statehouse, surrounded by advocates who helped get the legislation to his desk.

“Having strong families, of course, is key to our success in the future,” he added. “Mommas and daddies need to be with their babies as much as they can.” 

The event marked a ceremonial signing of a bill he actually set into law in May. 

Effective Oct. 1, it provides six weeks of paid leave to state employees who give birth or become parents by adopting a child under 18. The spouse who doesn’t give birth or — in the case of adoption, the parent who’s not the primary care provider — can take two weeks off with pay. Parents who foster a child in state custody can also take two weeks paid leave. 


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Parents can still take up to 12 weeks off, as allowed under a 1993 federal law, but the rest of the time would be unpaid. Currently, employees must use up their accrued vacation and sick days before taking unpaid leave. The new law doesn’t require using those days.

As initially passed overwhelmingly by the S.C. House of Representatives last year, the legislation guaranteed 12 weeks of paid leave to each parent. But the Senate cut the maximum weeks in half and differentiated between mother and father, biological and foster children.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia, said the compromise was necessary to get a vote in the Senate, which passed the amended bill unanimously in March. For reluctant senators, he said, it was a matter of money.   


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State fiscal experts estimated the 12-week offer would have cost taxpayers $5.5 million annually, based on 720 state employees taking leave in 2020 for the birth or placement of a child and projecting an average employee salary of $44,300. An update on the amended, six-week bill was never completed.

Both Jackson and Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, the chief sponsor in the House, pledged to reintroduce the 12-week bill for the 2023 legislative session.  


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Jackson said he hopes the debate over abortion has shifted the thinking of senators who previously opposed.

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The full House returns to Columbia next week to take up a bill that would outlaw abortions except to save the mother’s life or prevent serious, lifelong health problems. In the two months since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and left the legality of abortions up to state legislators, many Republicans have said further restrictions on abortion in South Carolina should be coupled with efforts to make adoption an easier and cheaper option.   

Encouraging adoptions should include more paid leave for families, Jackson said. 

“It is important that if we are going to pride ourselves on being pro-life, it is even more important to be pro-quality life because a healthy child means a healthy South Carolina,” he said. “I think anything we can do to improve the quality of life in South Carolina should be a priority.”

His inspiration for filing the bill, he said, was his administrative assistant, who was very sick at 8½ months pregnant but insisted on continuing to work, telling him it was too important to save all her paid vacation and sick days for after the baby was born. That’s when he realized the unfairness of the state’s policy, he said. 

“This is a monumental step for so many South Carolina families,” said Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, chairwoman of the Family and Veterans’ Services Committee who helped broker the compromise.  

“Of course, there’s so much more we can do to build on the success of establishing the first-ever paid leave,” she said, rattling off a to-do list that included increasing access to health care, child care and pre-kindergarten education.  

Asked if he’d sign the 12-week leave bill that sponsors want, McMaster said it depended on what else comes up next year.

“We’ll see what the other priorities are, but it’s a good idea. I like it,” he said. “It’s always a question of money. But this policy is good for families, and it’s good for competition. We want to get the very best people we can working and serving our people. This helps us compete with private business, but more importantly, it’s for the families.” 

Paid family leave will help agencies recruit and fill vacancies that have grown to nearly 12,000 across state government, about 4,700 more than four years ago, said Karen Wingo, human resources director for the state Department of Administration. 

“It’s more important than ever that we do our best to support state employees,” said Wingo, noting that, as a mother of 3- and 5-year-olds, she understands the difficulties of being a working mom.  

The law applies only to state employees. Those include workers of public colleges but not K-12 school districts, which the state budget funds differently than state agencies. 

Bernstein said she hopes school districts and local governments across the state follow the law’s lead and provide paid time off for their employees, particularly in Richland County, home to more than 20,000 state employees. 

Florence 1 became the first school district to do so earlier this month. 

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