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Ariana Kelly's picture

My eleven year old daughter Maeve is excited. She and I were at a debate watch party when former Maryland Governor (and Presidential candidate!) Martin O’Malley said with great pride that he had expanded parental leave in our state. I’m not going to lie, I screamed with joy. That’s my bill! My little baby bill!

I asked Maeve the next morning how that made her feel. Here’s what she had to say:

As a state legislator I have been working for the last five years (since Maeve was six!) to build support for Paid Family Leave in Maryland.  In 2010 when I was first elected, I knew I was going to fight for this bill. And I knew it wouldn't be easy. With help from MomsRising and the National Partnership for Women and Families, I started a strategic campaign to change the world (or at least Maryland), one vote at a time. 

Step One would be to ensure job-protected leave for new parents in Maryland. About half of workers were guaranteed time off under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act. But for workers who were employed in smaller businesses (under 50 employees) there was no protection at all. My first step was to fix that--helping the most vulnerable new parents (read more in the Washington Post here)

This new law wouldn’t cost the state anything, and it wouldn’t cost most employers anything either- it only required employers allow new moms (and dads!) six weeks off after giving birth. I jokingly referred to it as "my little baby bill" when promoting it with my (mostly male) colleagues.  Still it faced opposition from interest groups who did not want more regulations for businesses, and the bill was killed in committee. I knew then I really had my work cut out for me. 

The next year, MomsRising volunteer Danelle Buchman went to personal meetings with me with key legislators. She told them how she lost her job when her daughter Avery was born prematurely. She made them understand why this bill mattered. A lot of my colleagues had no idea how vulnerable pregnant women are in the modern workforce. They saw Danelle, and they thought about their own daughters. They began to understand. 

One night after work, I was attempting to pitch the bill to a younger male colleague with no children. He was generally a liberal Democrat, but had a conservative streak when it came to some business issues, so I wanted to make sure he understood what the bill did, and how it had no cost for employers. He looked at me and said “Ariana, you're wasting my time, that bill is irrelevant. It’s NEVER going to pass.  Politics is about confidence, and mine was shaken. How could he call it irrelevant? This bill has the potential to help so many people-- like Danelle, like me!

I wasn't going to let him decide my legislative priority was "irrelevant". Danelle and I recruited a larger team of volunteers. We built a dedicated network of legislators, staffers, and lobbyists who all cared about this issue. We didn’t have any money for this campaign- everyone was working pro-bono on this effort, out of my tiny legislative office. We had giant post-it notes with strategy all over the walls. 

I asked for advice and ideas from everyone I knew. And people were happy to help. So many people had a personal story about themselves or someone they knew who would benefit from this law. People called in favors. Local business owners with kids signed on to publicly support the effort. We built a really strong case, because the facts were on our side.

When the bill finally passed, it had support from almost every Democrat, and a good number of Republicans too. And even the fella who at first blush called it "irrelevant".

There's Maeve- just behind the Governor as he signs our 'baby" bill. 

Of course, unpaid leave is not good enough. We can do better than that! As soon as the first bill passed, I went to work on figuring out how to make sure people taking parental leave, and all types of family leave, could get paid. I have heard too many stories of new moms struggling to pay rent or mortgages because they had to take unpaid leave for the birth of a child, or during a medical crisis. 

Thank goodness, President Obama and the US Department of Labor stepped in to help us with this. They provided grants for states to research how to develop effective, business-friendly Paid Family Leave programs. I partnered with a local County Councilmember Hans Reimer to get one of these grants.  Thanks to this grant, we can now have the best minds in the country analyze data, and help us design the most effective possible paid family leave program for Maryland families.

Can you understand now why Maeve and I were SO excited to hear Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders AND Governor O’Malley on that stage all proudly supporting paid family leave during last week's debate?!?!

In January, when I reintroduce the Maryland Family Act it will have a broad and diverse coalition of supporters I could only dreamed of five years ago. Business groups, public health experts, child care providers, moms and dads, advocates for seniors will all be coming together, feeling the support of the President, many Presidential Candidates, our former Governor, legislative leaders across Maryland, and more. 

To quote that old, patronizing, sexist, and unhealthy but oh so catchy advertisement, "You've Come A Long Way, Baby!"


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