North Dakota Democrats Make a Cheap, Ugly Argument About Paid Family Leave

Over the past couple of weeks the North Dakota Democrats have been trying to turn a (very good) report about pay for absent lawmakers from Bismarck Tribune journalist Jack Dura into a talking point about mandating paid family leave.

I understand the argument, and believe Democratic leaders such as Senator Erin Oban (D-Bismarck) and Rep. Karla Rose Hanson (D-Fargo) are making it in good faith. They genuinely want to help people, and make North Dakota a better place to live and work, but what they’re proposing is bad policy likely to do more harm than good.

Still, it’s a fair debate to have.

Unfortunately the political party Oban and Hanson belong to is uninterested in a fair debate. This is their messaging today on the question of family leave:

 

The contention is that Republicans are indifferent to the well being of women and children because they don’t agree with Democrats on the question of mandating paid family leave by law.

That’s so ugly.

So small.

If you want some insight into why North Dakota Democrats have so much trouble winning elections in most parts of North Dakota, this sort of thing is the reason why.

This state is a small business state, which isn’t surprising given our agrarian roots. According to the federal Small Business Administration, small businesses make up more than 97 percent of all businesses in the state. They employ over 57 percent of all workers.

The legislation introduced earlier this year by Rep. Hanson would have created a state fund to pay for leave for businesses with 50 or more employees, with revenues from the fund coming from a tax on participating employers.

That would have impacted a lot of businesses, but it also would have exempted a lot businesses. “Firms with fewer than 100 employees have the largest share of small business employment,” the SBA reports. According to the same report, nearly 17,000 North Dakotans are employed at businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

I don’t know how many North Dakotans work at businesses with 49 or fewer employees – the SBA doesn’t break down the numbers that way – but suffice it to say that the number is in the tens of thousands.

Does Rep. Hanson not care about these workers? Is she indifferent to the women and children who benefit from employment by these businesses, be it directly or indirectly? How about the thousands of small businesses which can’t afford to provide this kind of leave? Do they, too, hate women and children?

No reasonable person thinks that, but if we follow the logic of the North Dakota Democratic party then I guess we must conclude Rep. Hanson and all those business owners are that callous.

There is a reasonable policy debate to be had about the question of mandating paid family leave. What the scope of such a mandate should be, or whether we ought to have one at all. But we should be able to have that debate without one side characterizing disagreement with a staked out position as child endangerment.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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