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Reed meets with top Obama adviser to raise awareness about paid family leave

For the first time in Atlanta's history, city employees recently became eligible for paid maternity and paternity leave. Inside Atlanta City Council's old chambers yesterday, Mayor Kasim Reed and a top White House official discussed the importance of the policy — one President Barack Obama has promoted across the nation — during an official discussion that drew a crowd of more than a couple hundred people.

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During this year's State of the Union, Obama called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act to help an fund an employment policy offered in most other developed nations. As is the case with many other proposals, Congress so far has failed to pass that measure. With little progress at the federal level in sight, Obama Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett has toured the nation on the "Lead on Leave" tour to promote local and state governments who have been willing to give their employees paid family leave — which the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute says nearly 90 percent of American workers don't receive access to right now.

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Atlanta's new budget, which went into effect on July 1, included $1.4 million to pay for up to six weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave for all city employees. Jarrett, who made Atlanta the last stop on a recent 12-stop nationwide tour, praised the mayor during the public discussion, saying that "your budget reflects your priorities" in operating the city.

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"Support and momentum for policies that reflect a 21st Century workforce is building across the country, and Atlanta is a city leading by example," Jarrett said.

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According to Reed's office, the extra cash makes Atlanta's city government the first government body in the metro area to offer such a benefit to its employees. Prior to the budget's approval, Reed spokesman Jenna Garland says, city workers were only protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which protects an individual's job status but requires the use of sick or vacation days.

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"When we determine something is the right thing do...and when we can, we will act decisively," Reed said.

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The paid leave decision, Reed added, came on the heels of a recent plan to close the gender-pay gap at City Hall. The mayor, who introduced the equality pay proposal during the 2015 "State of the City," has spent recent months conducting an analysis on the final costs of closing the pay gap for all city employees.

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GBPI Senior Policy Analyst Wesley Tharpe says the city's new paid family-leave policy is a "great step in the right direction" that could help government agencies — along with private companies — attract and retain talent. The city, he says, should follow up this measure by enacting a broader policy urging businesses within the city limits to also provide some paid leave to their workers. However, some limitations in current state law would require legislative action at the Gold Dome.

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"Several cities are moving in this direction nationwide, but local governments in Georgia are unfortunately forbidden from doing so," Tharpe says. "Georgia has a state law called preemption, which prevents cities and counties from raising their local minimum wage or mandating employee benefits."



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