Shelby County commissioner voices support for paid parental leave program

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — If Mayor Lee Harris has his way, county employees will soon get paid leave when they become new parents.

Harris is proposing a six-week paid parental leave policy for families who have a new baby or adopt a child.

County employees said they’re excited this is on the table, but it’s not a done deal just yet. Funding is a big key, and that’s next in the discussion.

Vanessa Henderson has worked with the county for about eight months now. During that time, things have changed in her life, as she’s now expecting her first child with her husband.

"When I started the job, I was not pregnant, so I didn’t even think about it, but in my mind I just felt like every job had it you know," Henderson, an executive assistant, said.

Now six months pregnant and faced with the financial aspects of having a child, she’s relieved to hear a proposal for paid parental leave is now on the table.

"It’s critical bonding time, so when you don’t have that, you just kind of miss out on certain things, so I think the six weeks is very critical for the bonding time," Henderson said.

Shelby County commissioners said that family time is also critical to recruit and retain employees.

"I think this is a good initiative," commissioner Van Turner said. "I’ll be supportive, but we probably need to figure out how we pay for it. Once we get that figured out, I think this will be a pretty successful program."

The mayors office said there are anywhere from 50 to 100 people who take leaves each year.

Taking into account those numbers, they will budget on the higher end of $800,000 to cover the costs of this program.

Turner said that means reorganizing priorities to accommodate the budget.

"We would have to say no to some folks to say yes to this program, and I’m willing to do that," Turner said.

Hopefully, the program can make life a little bit easier for new moms like Henderson.

County commissioners must vote to approve the proposal before it becomes an official policy. It’s expected to go before a committee in the next month.

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