2020 leg logo Post Register

A guard tower stands behind the entrance sign to the Minidoka National Historic Site in Jerome.

BOISE — Many Idaho state employees will soon be eligible for eight weeks of paid parental leave under an executive order Gov. Brad Little signed Wednesday.

"In Idaho, we're proud of our strong family values," Little said at a news conference unveiling the order. Little said he wants Idaho to be a state where everyone can thrive and where children who grow up want to return.

"The family unit is the bedrock of our society and is crucial to achieving my goal," he said.

The order goes into effect July 1 and covers all state employees who work for an executive branch agency after the birth or adoption of a child. Mothers and fathers are eligible. Previously, while they had been eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave as mandated by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, they could only get paid for it if they had enough sick or vacation time saved up.

The executive order does not cover people who work for the legislative or judicial branches, or who work for agencies that fall under the purview of other statewide elected officials such as the Attorney General or Superintendent of Public Instruction. It would be up to these other branches and officials to follow suit if they wish.

"The governor encourages them to do so," said Little spokeswoman Marissa Morrison.

A fact sheet given to media along with the executive order says the eligibility requirements are expected to mirror the federal law, which says employees who have been employed for 12 months and worked 1,250 hours in that time are eligible. Employees would also have to be benefit-eligible, meaning they will have to have worked 20 or more hours a week for five or more consecutive months. It says Little chose eight weeks "to cover them for the majority of their (Family and Medical Leave Act) leave, while also being mindful of the impacts to state agencies." The fiscal impact is expected to be minimal.

Little said providing employees with paid parental leave would help them with their work-life balance and help with recruiting younger employees and stemming turnover, both of which have been a problem at some agencies.

"Parents and children will be able to bond and focus on their health," he said.

Just 17 percent of all American workers have access to paid parental leave, according to numbers the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled in 2018, including 25 percent of government employees and 16 percent of private-sector workers. Eight states and Washington, D.C., have laws requiring some paid family leave in the private sector. Several of these bills been passed during the past year, and some other states have considered but not passed similar legislation during recent sessions. Efforts also have been made to require paid family leave at the federal level. Little indicated Wednesday he would oppose mandating it for private employers.

"I'm always an advocate of leading by example instead of leading by legislation," he said.

Micron Technology, the computer data memory and storage company headquartered in Boise, is one private employer in Idaho that does offer paid family leave to its employees. April Arnzen, Micron's senior vice president of human resources, said offering it "aligns to Idaho values of supporting our families." And, she said retention has increased by 3 percent since the policy was implemented in 2017.

"This benefit has also served as a strong recruitment tool," she said.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.