Another Hill hearing room, fresh-faced staffers buzzing in the background, Congressmen and women at their microphones, witnesses seated at the witness table. June 11 was just another day for the Nation's Capital of the World's Greatest Democracy.
Except it wasn't. The bills in question would make paid leave a reality for (at least some) American workers. The Healthy Families Act, providing 7 paid sick days a year, has never before gotten a hearing, even though it's been introduced year after year. The FIRST Act, offering states federal funds to establish paid family leave programs, likewise received its first-ever hearing. Legislators noted that FMLA, under which some eligible workers, if they can afford it, may take up to 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave, had been passed over 15 years ago, and was intended to be the very first step in a cohesive social safety net protecting families from the perfectly routine events of human life, like birth, for example. And illness, unemployment, injury, and, possibly, death. We can put people on the moon, but we haven't been able to shake these euphemistically termed "known risks". At least not yet...
Unaccountably, serious policy progress had stalled, and the need for paid leave had only become more obvious since 1993. Especially as women constitute nearly half of the paid labor force. Especially as pandemics, like the H1N1 virus, close school districts, businesses, and governmental offices. Especially as every other industrialized country, and many others besides, have made paid leave a minimum labor standard. And, strangely, not fallen into the abyss of economic oblivion.
Opponents, predictably, sang the same old song, to the tune of - "times are hard, governmental mandates for paid leave will annihilate American small business, the backbone of the American economy!" Oh, pooh. That was about the only thing that was business as usual. The rest was a hopeful sign that common sense and reality may, in fact, prevail.
Lots of bills get introduced in a single congressional session. A small fraction receive hearings in committee. An even smaller fraction emerge from committee to be voted on by the House and Senate. And an even smaller fraction are passed and signed by the President. So, a hearing is a significant step - truly a reason to rejoice and be glad. And we are!!!