By: Timothy Frith
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.
The Arkansas Legislature’s 94th General Assembly extended maternity leave for State Employees during the 2023 Regular Session. The bill was introduced by the Senate as SB 426 and ultimately became enacted on April 12, 2023, as Act 770. The Act received unanimous bipartisan support, with 35 Yeas in the Senate and 75 Yeas in the House.
The Act extended maternity leave from 4 weeks to 12 weeks, and additional time is available by the use of donations to a pool hour system, meaning there is no cost to taxpayers. This feature, along with the Act’s bipartisan support, is a testament to a collaborative effort of both parties to ignore the polarizing political climate and unite to improve motherhood for all state employees.
The Act’s emergency clause expedites the process of mothers receiving the benefits of the legislation, and allows the legislation to take effect immediately after the Governor signs the bill. The Act is a step in the right direction for a state that had the third-highest infant mortality rate in 2021 and will allow mothers who are state employees to spend their time at home during the most vital stages of their child’s development.
The Act is an effort by the General Assembly to try and retain top-level talent within the state. The change in paid time off for mothers will put the state on a level-playing field with private employers, hopefully resulting in retention of current state employees or the hiring of prospective mothers considering state employment. Retaining state employees is a challenge for many states, and the Act shows that Arkansas is attempting to incentivize state employees, especially new mothers, whether they are
biological, adoptive, or fostering. After the pandemic, employees have realized the importance of family, and Arkansas mothers who are state employees have the opportunity to prioritize both their own health and their newborn child’s health.
One of the stated goals of the Act is, “to encourage adoption and fostering by state employees.” The Act has the feature of allowing adoptive and foster mothers to enjoy
the same benefits of having twelve weeks of full paid leave. This will likely bolster the foster system in Arkansas, and could increase the amount of foster and adoptive parents in Arkansas.
There are also benefits for new mothers, as medical issues can arise after giving birth. Because of this, the Act gives mothers who are state employees the flexibility in their schedules to care for themselves if difficulties arise during or after childbirth.
The legislation puts Arkansas in the minority of states that allow for paid maternity leave by mirroring the federal government’s Family and Medical Leave Act. By doing this, Arkansas is showing that they are willing to invest in their state employees, especially new mothers. It remains to be seen how much employee retention this legislation will cause, but one thing is for certain, biological, adoptive, or foster mothers will all see the benefits of this, and it is a step in the right direction for mothers statewide.