News: CJ Exclusives

Dole Pushes Medical Leave Expansion

N.C. Senator joined by leading liberals in effort to aid armed forces

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole has won Senate approval of legislation to extend the Family and Medical Leave Act for up to six months for spouses, sons, daughters, parents, and next of kin of members of the Armed Forces, including the National Guard or Reserve, who have combat-related injuries.

Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, joined Dole to introduce the legislation, which was approved earlier this month.

“Our men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend our freedoms and keep our nation safe,” Dole said. “When service members are injured while answering the call of duty, they deserve to have their loved ones’ comfort and support. This legislation will ensure that spouses, parents, sons and daughters of wounded soldiers can take time to care for them without fear of losing their jobs and livelihoods.”

The Family and Medical Leave Act was criticized in the early 1990s, mostly by conservatives and libertarians, because it placed burdensome requirements upon employers. Employers are required to grant employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a serious health condition, to care for a sick parent or child, or for the birth or adoption of a child. In order to qualify, an employee must have been employed by the same employer for at least a year and must have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours.

In 2004 the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank, recommended the repeal of the act.

“Leave arrangements, like most other terms and conditions of employment, should be determined by employers and employees in the free market,” a Heritage report said. “The Family Medical Leave Act, for all its noble intentions, imposes a one-size-fits-all leave standard on all covered businesses, reducing flexibility for both employers and employees.”

But the senators who sponsored the bill’s expansion said it was important to enable family members to care for the nation’s soldiers who have been injured in action.

“It is our responsibility to make sure our wounded soldiers receive the care and support they need,” Clinton said. “It is also our duty to recognize and help address the extraordinary challenges their loved ones will face as they struggle to serve as their caregivers. This is the right thing to do for our military families.”

The measure would enact a recommendation of the Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors. The commission was established in March by President Bush, with the specific goals of conducting a comprehensive review of services the government provides to soldiers injured in combat and delivering recommendations to the president, secretary of defense and secretary of veterans affairs.

“These wounded warriors have made enormous sacrifices for our country. Their family members bring support, comfort, and assistance that no one else can and they deserve additional time off from their jobs in order to provide it,” Kennedy said. “I’d strongly support making this leave paid leave.”