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Montana Bill Aims To Create State Run System To Fund Family, Medical Leave

Montana Democratic Rep. Moffie Funk introduces House Bill 228 to the House Business and Labor Committee on Feb. 10, 2021.
Kevin Trevellyan/Yellowstone Public Radio
Montana Democratic Rep. Moffie Funk introduces House Bill 228 to the House Business and Labor Committee on Feb. 10, 2021.

A handful of business owners and advocacy groups Wednesday testified in support of a Montana bill that would create a state run system to fund family and medical leave. Business association lobbyists oppose the proposal.

Under House Bill 228, workers and employers would contribute to a state run insurance pool that would fund up to 12 weeks of paid leave for people with a newborn baby, serious medical condition or family member with a major health issue who needs regular care.

Sponsor and Helena Democratic Rep. Moffie Funk said the proposal would strengthen Montana’s workforce by making the state a more attractive place to work.

"These can be extremely stressful times and families should not have to struggle to make ends meet or keep their job while facing these challenges," Funk said.

While the federal Family and Medical Leave Act only requires unpaid leave from businesses with 50 or more employees, House Bill 228’s plan would require all businesses with at least $1,000 in payroll to offer paid leave.

Workers and employers would contribute equal dollars to the fund, capped at 1 percent of an employees’s wages. Total weekly benefits would be capped at $1,000 with high earners receiving a lower percent of their wages in benefits.

A legislative fiscal note estimates the program would require $2.7 million annually from the state general fund after benefits become available in 2023.

Fourteen people testified in support of House Bill 228 on Wednesday, including small business owners and representatives for the Montana Primary Care Association, AARP Montana and Montana AFL-CIO.

Brain Thompson with the Montana Chamber of Commerce and a representative for the National Federation of Independent Business spoke against the bill. Thompson said it would be too great a burden for employers.

“This bill is compulsory, and it creates a large new government program with new fees, new taxes required to be paid by Montana businesses,” Thompson said.

Proposals that would’ve created similar paid leave programs failed to gain traction in previous legislative sessions.

The House Business and Labor Committee hasn’t yet taken action on House Bill 228.