With Florida’s most recent legislative session in the rearview mirror, I have been blessed with more time in the city I love surrounded by the five most important people in my universe: my children.
Of course, that means that my life only got busier. However, when it comes to taking care of my kids, it is only the best kind of busy. Whether it’s driving them to football practice or finding just the right thing to say when someone comes home from school a little worse for the wear, their wellbeing is my absolute top priority; a sentiment I know is shared by mothers and fathers across the world.
There were several legislative priorities I was proud to champion in recent sessions, directly affecting the health, safety and well-being of Floridians, including my 2019 texting and driving ban in school zones and this year’s Tobacco-21 (T-21) bill, which are now law. SB 1080/HB 987 sets the minimum age for purchasers of tobacco or nicotine products to 21. This bill aligns state law with federal law and allows for greater enforcement.
But there is still much to be done. One proposal that we’ve been unable to gain traction with is the implementation of paid family leave right here in the Sunshine State.
In 2019, I co-sponsored HB 393 – Employment Practices, a bill which would have required paid family leave from employers under certain, specific situations. In 2020, I again co-sponsored HB 889, which would have established the Florida Family Leave Act, specifically requiring employers to allow their workers to take paid family leave upon birth, adoption or foster care placement. In a state with more than 20 million residents, we must begin to think strategically about how we care for our children, our families, and our aging parents.
Thankfully, the White House has had no issue recognizing the needs of families everywhere, regardless of which party was seated in the Oval Office. Thanks to the relentless efforts of Ivanka Trump — former adviser to the president, first daughter and mother of three — along with the staunch support of Sen. Marco Rubio, President Donald Trump placed paid family leave at the top of his agenda.
More recently, President Joe Biden has made paid family and medical leave a key provision in his American Families Plan, taking steps to make this key benefit available from coast to coast and demonstrating that it is indeed a shining example of that rare common ground sought by Republicans and Democrats truly wishing to achieve what is in the best interests of America’s families.
And I am not alone in my desire to care for a feverish child without suffering dire consequences in the workplace. According to 2017 polling by the Pew Research Center, an overwhelming 82 percent of Americans agree that mothers should have access to paid maternity leave. In addition, while some elected leaders may seem averse to the issue, the same cannot be said about their constituents. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, 79 percent of 2020 voters, including 67 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents, and 93 percent of Democrats, support paid leave for people with health, child, or family care needs.
Paid medical leave is also critically important for our aging population. Both nationally and at the state level, approximately 25 percent of our workforce is 55 or older, carrying the increased health and care needs associated with their demographic.
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This issue is incredibly important to Floridians, so I truly hope that Sen. Rubio hears the many voices in the majority who are calling for this positive change, and rallies behind the President’s American Families Plan.
Because no one should have to choose between earning a living and caring for their loved ones.
State Rep. Jackie Toledo is a Republican representing House District 60, covering western Hillsborough County. She was elected to office in 2016 and re-elected subsequently, previously serving as the House Majority Deputy Whip from 2016-2018.