By Julie O’Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator
Louisiana won’t be able to estimate the cost of a new paid parental leave policy for state workers until it has been in place for at least several months, said Jay Dardenne, budget chief for outgoing Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“We’re not going to know anytime soon what kind of financial impact this has on the budget,” Dardenne told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday. “It’s going to take some experience as to how many people wind up utilizing this leave.”
Even if the cost is unknown, Dardenne said he is confident the state government can afford to offer the new worker benefit.
Louisiana starts its budget year assuming all state workers will be paid fully. A new parent taking off paid leave shouldn’t cost the state extra money except in some cases where a temporary replacement needs to be hired.
“There’s been some concern expressed about whether we could afford it or not,” Dardenne said. “The fact is, it has been built into the budget. We are going to be able to afford it.”
Edwards signed paperwork earlier this month to give approximately 70,000 state workers access to six weeks of paid parental leave following the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.
It kicks in Jan. 1, just a week before Edwards leaves office. Republican Gov.-elect Jeff Landry hasn’t committed to leaving paid parental leave in place yet. Landry said he wanted to know more about the public cost of the program first.
Currently, state workers must use their existing paid vacation leave or sick days if they want to be paid during maternity or paternity time off.
Dardenne’s comments Monday could be considered a response to Landry’s skepticism.
“There’s not going to be an ability for Gov. Landry or the new legislature to come and say ‘We’ve got to ask the Civil Service Commission to undo this because we can’t afford it,’” Dardenne said.
In spite of the optimism, Dardenne said there are state agencies that could face additional pressures with the policy in place.
The Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the Office of Juvenile Justice already struggle to hire enough people to work in the state’s prisons and secure facilities. The shortage could become more problematic if employees go on family leave, according to Dardenne, though he said it wasn’t a concern for the rest of state government.
“My guess is — and this is just a guess — is that it is not going to create a huge negative impact on the state,” he said.
Still, Landry could easily undo the paid parental leave policy for about half of the workers Edwards intended it to cover. Edwards used an executive order to provide the benefit to some 32,000 unclassified state employees, and Landry can lift it immediately once he takes office.
Scrapping the perk for the remaining 39,000 classified workers would be more difficult. To do that, Landry would have to get the Civil Service Commission to agree to rescind a paid parental leave rule they just approved in September.
Even if Landry makes no changes, Edwards’ paid parental leave policy doesn’t apply to all state workers. The governor doesn’t have the authority to offer the benefit to employees of the Louisiana Legislature, state courts, colleges and universities.
Higher education officials have said they will likely extend the benefit to their workers. Legislative leaders haven’t said whether they are going to offer paid parental leave to their employees yet. The Louisiana Supreme Court hasn’t responded to requests for comment on state court employees’ benefits.