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Shaw: For many, paid maternity leave is a necessity

Shaw criticizes the North Dakota Legislature for defeating the paid family leave bill.

Jim Shaw
Jim Shaw
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FARGO — It is appalling that North Dakota lawmakers not only defeated the paid family leave bill, but voted against even studying the issue. The bill would have allowed workers with a medical crisis or new child in the family to take up to 12 weeks off, and receive up to 66% of their pay. It’s hard enough to deal with a serious illness or new child, but when you have lost your income at that same time, it can be overwhelming.

Opponents included Sen. Doug Larsen, R-Mandan, who testified on the Senate floor that, “The problem doesn’t seem to be there.”

Actually, if Larsen opens his eyes, he will see this problem occurs in hundreds of North Dakota families every year. Families such as the Dargis family of Bismarck.

Two years ago, Jess Dargis, was working for the state when she gave birth to her daughter, Belle. The baby was born with a rare brain condition called encephalocele. Belle would need surgery in Minneapolis five months after she was born. To make matters worse, North Dakota public employees, such as Jess, shamefully do not receive paid maternity leave.

“I would like to have taken 12 weeks off after a C-section, and as a first time mother with a baby with a disability,” Jess said. “I ended up taking eight weeks off because I needed to save four weeks for the surgery."

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So, to keep the income flowing before the surgery, she went back to work with her baby by her side. That made for 11-hour work days.

“I missed bonding time,” Jess said. “It was very challenging to get work done with the baby crying, needing attention, needing to be fed and changed. It made for long days and nights.”

Last year, Jess had enough and quit her job.

“I felt unsupported and left,” Jess said. “I felt unsupported in my family situation. It was difficult to work and raise that new child.”

To Jess, a paid family leave program is a necessity.

“The state has to provide paid maternity leave to help the needs of families and to retain a workforce,” Jess said. “When you provide nothing, it’s hard for families to make it. It bothers me. It basically tells me we’re not here to take care of families. We’re not putting families first.”

The fact that the legislators voted to not even study this issue tells me they don’t want to know the truth. They don’t want to know how several states have successfully implemented paid family leave programs. They don’t want to know how much of a financial disaster it is for working families when they have a new child or medical emergency. They don’t want to know how many families in North Dakota deal with this hardship.

The legislators have turned their backs on working families. If they really want families to move to or stay in North Dakota, they better start paying attention.

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Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email jimshawtv@gmail.com

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