Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, appears to be making some progress on her goal to make Oklahoma a “top 10 state for women.” She obtained passage last week of her Senate Bill 193 that would grant a six-week maternity leave to any state employee with a new birth or adopted child if the employee had been employed by the state for at least two years prior to requesting the leave. The bill also provides that the service of the employee will be considered uninterrupted for purposes of determining seniority, pay or pay advancement, and performance awards, and for the receipt of any benefit that may be affected by a leave of absence. The bill passed, with the title stricken, by a vote of 33-14 after some lively and perhaps unfortunate debate.
I was surprised to note the fiscal impact or cost of the legislation was estimated by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services at only $3 million per year. This would seem to be a modest investment in employees of child-bearing age for a state government that spends about $11 billion per year. Sen. Garvin noted during the bill’s presentation that the state’s total turnover costs in 2021 were approximately $110 million. She said some of that would be reduced because there currently are some state employees who do not return to work after having a child because they have no guaranteed time off. Currently, state employees who give birth must use sick leave or other accrued time off, which is subject to approval by the state agency.
The main objections to the bill seemed to be: first, the cost to taxpayers, and second, that the benefit would give the state an unfair advantage over private sector employers who cannot afford to pay for the benefit. There was a time when people sought state government employment because, although the pay was not usually as much as private sector pay, the benefits and job security were more attractive. That’s not so true anymore.
Several years ago, the legislature gutted the state employee pension program, which was a defined benefit retirement program, and replaced it with a defined contribution program that works like a 401k retirement plan. A good retirement plan was one of the major benefits that kept people on the job in state government. With the hollowing out of state agencies caused by recurring revenue failures, resulting partially from ill-advised tax cuts, and the inability to muster enough support for revenue increases when needed, job security is not what it once was for state employees.
It was interesting to note that some — not all — of the most ardent supporters of “pro-life” or “anti-abortion” legislation were among the “no” votes on the legislation, which would provide maternity leave for state employees after giving childbirth. On the other hand, the legislature found $3 million last session appropriate for the continuation of the “Choosing Childbirth Act” to convince women who might be considering an abortion to give birth instead.
Sen. Garvin’s SB 193 would be a good way to demonstrate that state government is a pro-family employer and it could lead the way, by example, for progress in maternity and childcare in the private sector where possible.