SC House unanimously votes to approve six weeks paid parental leave, teachers and lawmaker reacts

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — On Wednesday, the SC House of Representatives approved a bill that allows teachers and staff to have paid parental leave for up to six weeks when they give birth or adopt a child.

The bill passed unanimously with a vote of 113-0.

Teachers who give birth or are the primary caretakers of an adopted child would be eligible for six weeks of paid leave. The other parent can take up to two weeks and parents who foster a child in state custody also are eligible for two weeks of leave.

Erin Rigot was a teacher for nine years and is now an instructional coach at Greenville League Academy. She shared her story with legislators at the State House on Wednesday.

In May, 2017 she and her husband Taylor had their son Emerson two months early due to a medical condition called preeclampsia.

“It was really tough to go for about 4 months without any pay. I had my short-term disability. I had FMLA reserving my job. All of that was fine, but it took us about 2 years to recover financially,” Rigot says.

The House vote says a lot to educators in the state, Rigot says, who believes this pushes South Carolina in the right direction.

“It really had me thinking, I cannot think of a time in my 13 years as a SC educator, that I’ve heard good news come from Columbia that was gonna affect me directly as an educator. I’m sorry I get a little emotional, um that was powerful. Our district does a lot that is positive for us. But from the state level I can’t think of the last time that I saw good news that was gonna help with retention and recruitment,” Rigot says.

Patrick Kelly, Director of Governmental Affairs with the Palmetto State Teachers Association says if the bill becomes law, South Carolina will become the first state in the southeast to offer six weeks of paid parental leave to educators, and will increase the retention and recruitment of educators in the state.

“And ultimately that benefits everybody. It benefits the students obviously, but it also benefits the teachers even if they’re not having families. Because if we can retain their colleagues, that’s going to mitigate some of the enhanced workload that teachers are facing right now, because we have unfilled positions,” says Kelly, who also teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics at Blythewood High School.

Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter says this bipartisan effort comes from an awareness of just how critical teachers are to children’s education.

“A lot of times people see us up here and think all we do is fuss and fight, and we do our fair share of that. But this is an example of what happens when people of different philosophies come together to pass legislation,” Cobb-Hunter says.

The bill will head to the SC Senate next. “So the ball is in their court and it’s up to them…” says Cobb-Hunter.

Currently a federal law allows up to twelve weeks of parental leave with no pay.

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