Democratic and Republican female senators look to tackle paid family leave

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) According to the Department of Labor, only 14 percent of the U.S. workforce can access paid family leave through their employer, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are trying to change that.

"I had a great leave, and it was still really hard. My son was like a very easy baby," said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and families.

Shabo took 16 weeks off for the birth of her son, and got paid for it. When she returned to work, she says she couldn't help but think about others who weren't offered the same generous leave policies.

"Just the state of play in this country, where people really have to win the boss lottery to have access to the paid family and medical leave that they need, drove me to do this work," Shabo explained.

Now, Shabo is working to shape workplace policy with the National Partnership for Women and Families.

On the heels of the historic Women's March and the 2016 campaign, it's an issue gaining a lot of attention. In addition, first daughter Ivanka Trump is using her national platform to advocate for it.

Now, lawmakers are taking advantage of this momentum. Democratic and Republican female senators are introducing separate bills to address paid family leave. However, there are major differences in their approaches.

"We are looking at ways to provide flexibility," said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), who recently just re-introduced her Strong Families Act.

Sen. Fischer recently met with Ivanka Trump to discuss her proposal, which would create a two-year tax credit for businesses who voluntarily give their employees at least two weeks of paid leave.

"Ivanka Trump is very interested in the issue," Fischer explained. "I don't like to see federal government mandate, I want to see businesses be able to support a program that's going to help their employees."

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is also re-introducing her bill, the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. The legislation would provide for two-thirds of a worker's pay for up to 12 weeks. It would be paid for by a small payroll tax shared by both employees and employers. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is supporting the measure.

"This creates a system that shares the risk of sick employees, it shares the opportunity to provide leave for women who have children, and men who need to take care of parents," Sen. Heitkamp said. "I think it's a wonderful system."

Shabo has evaluated both proposals, and she says Sen. Fischer's bill doesn't go far enough, because small tax credits aren't likely to motivate companies to change their policies.

"What that does is it means that companies that are already choosing to offer paid leave will continue to do so, and they will get a tax break for it," Shabo explained. "Companies that aren't, probably won't be incentivized to change their behavior."

However, Shabo says she's still hopeful something will get accomplished during this session.

"I think what needs to happen is for all of us, and especially lawmakers, is to get out of their ideological boxes and to really examine the evidence," she said.

According to a new poll conducted by the National Partnership for Women and Families, 82 percent of voters say it's important for Congress to consider a national paid family and medical leave law.