Constituent policy

Colorado Legislature Passes First Parental Leave Policy

When State Senator Brittany Pettersen gave birth to her son, Davis, during the 2020 Legislature, the only way the Lakewood Democrat could take time off and avoid losing her paycheck was to have her child considered. pregnancy as a “long-term illness”.

Indeed, the laws governing the legislature state that a legislator who misses more than one-third of the 120-day session should have his salary reduced unless the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House designates his absence as being due to chronic illness.

“Obviously these laws weren’t put in place for women in the legislature,” Pettersen said.

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The birth of Davis and the arrival of several other lawmakers’ children over the past three years prompted the Democratic majority to change the General Assembly’s outdated furlough policies.

Senate Bill 184introduced last week on Capitol Hill, would automatically grant 12 weeks of paid parental leave to lawmakers, plus an additional four weeks of paid leave for lawmakers who have complications in pregnancy or childbirth.

The measure also would no longer limit the Senate Speaker and Speaker of the House to using the “long-term illness” standard when granting lawmakers paid leave of absence for more than one-third of the legislative session.

State legislators in Colorado earn between $40,000 and $41,000 a year.

“Being inclusive here has a direct impact on our democracy and who represents us,” said Senate Speaker Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat who is a lead sponsor of Senate Bill 184 alongside Pettersen. . “I think we need to make sure that there are no barriers, intentional or not, that prevent people from running for office.”

Fenberg’s wife had the couple’s first child five days before the start of the 2020 legislative term. He chose not to take time off and as a result ‘was like a zombie for probably the first half of the session’ this year.

“It’s tough,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, with his newborn baby and other Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Some have wondered whether lawmakers should be able to miss extended periods given that it may mean their constituents are not represented on Capitol Hill while they are on leave.

But Fenberg points out that being absent from the legislature doesn’t mean a lawmaker isn’t working. And the thing is, getting pregnant comes with a degree of uncertainty.

“You can’t decide exactly when that’s going to happen,” Fenberg said.

House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat, had a baby, Marlo, in July 2021. She, too, knows how difficult it can be balancing work on Capitol Hill and trying to take care of a newborn, even when the legislature is not in session.

“When you have a citizen-run legislature, there are people who live outside of that building,” she said. “We are not career politicians here. If someone gets pregnant or their wife gets pregnant, she deserves to be able to spend time with her family after the birth of her child, just like anyone else.

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