BISMARCK — North Dakota senators on Thursday, March 11, rejected a bill to study the possible effects of a statewide paid family leave program — essentially blocking such a program for at least another two years.

The Senate voted the bill down 22-25 after it was reduced to a study. The original version of the bill would have created an opt-in, state-run program letting employees with a new child or ailing relative take up to 12 weeks off while earning up to 66% of their pay.

House Bill 1441 would have established the leave fund starting out with a $5 million allocation from the Legacy Fund, North Dakota's $8 billion oil tax savings account, while the rest would have been paid for by employees and employers who opted into the program.

Concerned about the potential costs of the program, the House amended the bill to simply study the "feasibility and desirability" of an opt-in paid family leave program, and the financial impact it could have on businesses. The amended bill passed the House with a 75-18 vote in February.

Sen. Doug Larsen, R-Mandan, testified on the Senate floor Thursday, saying that some of his fellow lawmakers agreed that "a mother should consider, if they want to, spending more time with a newborn," but it is not the government's job to "stick their nose in it."

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"The problem doesn't seem to be there," Larsen said. "I don't think it's government's job to fix it."

Federal policy already grants caretakers 12 weeks of job-protected leave, but since it is unpaid, many are left to make a tough decision to spend time as a caregiver or earn wages, according to the bill's supporters.

As of December, at least nine states and Washington, D.C., had some form of paid family medical leave, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"It is highly likely ... that we represent people who are not in a position to choose time with their loved one versus being at work to earn their paycheck," Sen. Erin Oban said on the Senate floor. Oban, D-Bismarck, said even if lawmakers were wary of a paid family leave program, the bill as amended would only gather data about the practicality of creating such a program.

Both chambers have approved a bill that prohibits local governments from requiring employers to implement their own paid family leave programs that exceed the already-established federal and state laws. That bill had not been sent to the governor's desk for his signature as of Thursday.

Readers can reach Forum News Service reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.