A joint ballot initiative effort between the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Women’s Lobby seeks to put the question of whether Maine should mandate paid family and medical leave to voters. The Secretary of State’s office issued a petition for the proposed referendum question on July 13 and the groups announced this week that the effort to collect signatures has begun.
The referendum text charges the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) within the Department of Labor with establishing and administering a paid family and medical leave program.
It stipulates that, beginning July 1, 2026, individuals would have the right to take paid family and medical leave, and to receive insurance benefits during the time they take leave for that purpose if they are covered and are caring for an infant in the first year after its birth, or if they are going through an adoption or foster care placement of that child. Covered medical and family leave outlined in the proposed legislation also includes care of a family member with a serious health condition, personal care related to a serious health condition, or exigency leave due to a family member being on active duty with the armed forces.
The law would also cover “safe leave,” defined as leave taken to address violence, assault, sexual assault, stalking, or other acts covered by an order for protection from abuse.
Under the proposal, a covered individual could take up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave in a benefit year to cover any particular qualifying need. The aggregate number of weeks for which an individual can receive benefits is capped at 16 per benefit year.
Covered individuals could also take intermittent leave, in increments of one hour or shorter if an employer measures employee leave in shorter increments, but are not payable until an individual has accrued eight hours of benefits.
Employees claiming leave would be required to inform employers no less than 30 days before leave begins, unless the need for leave is not foreseeable. In that case, employees must notify their employers as soon as possible.
An initial benefit payment would have to be made within two weeks of a claim being filed, and would have to be subsequently made every two weeks.
Benefits would be calculated as a portion of a qualifying individual’s weekly wage. Per the referendum, the portion of a covered individual’s weekly wage that is 50 percent or less of the state average weekly wage must be replaced at 90 percent. The portion of a covered individual’s weekly wage that is greater than 50 percent of the state average weekly wage must be replaced at 65 percent.
Before July 1, 2027, the maximum weekly benefit would be capped at $1,000. After that date, the maximum weekly benefit would be capped at the state’s average weekly rate.
The proposed legislation would use payroll premiums to finance insurance benefits from mandated family and medical leave policies and to cover administrative costs. The law stipulates that, between July 1, 2025 and December 31, 2027, 0.86 percent of an employees’ wages be paid into the premium for family and medical leave.
Employers would pay benefits into the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Fund, administered by BLS, which would be established by the law.
The director of the BLS would be required to set the premium rate by no later than October 1st annually, beginning in 2028. The bureau would make this determination based on a percentage of employee wages and “the rate necessary to obtain a total amount of premium contributions equal to 135 percent of the benefits paid during previous fiscal year plus an amount equal to 100 percent of the cost of administration of the payment of those benefits during the previous fiscal year, less the amount of net assets remaining in the funds as of June 30 the previous calendar year.”
Self-employed individuals could elect to receive coverage and are required to pay 50 percent of the premium required for an employee. Self-employed individuals would be required to pay premiums directly to the BLS.
Employers with 15 or more employees could deduct up to 50 percent of required premiums from an employee’s wages and would be required to turn over all of that amount to the BLS. Employers with fewer than 15 employees could also deduct up to 50 percent of required premiums, but would be required only to turn over 50 percent of that amount to the BLS.
Should an employer fail to make premium contributions as outlined in the proposal, it would pay a penalty of 0.86 percent its annual payroll for each year it failed to comply with the law, plus the total amount of benefits paid to covered individuals for whom it failed to pay premium contributions.
The referendum would also create a Paid Family and Medical Leave Start-up Trust Fund, which would provide start-up costs for administering the insurance program, and would cover initial staff and administrative costs.
The filing deadline for the petition is January 13, 2024. The petitioners will have to collect just over 63,000 valid signatures for the measure to appear on the ballot. The Maine Women’s Lobby stated on its website that the proposal could appear on the ballot as early as November 2023.