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Martin O'Malley Just Joined the Paid Leave Party. Will a Republican Candidate Join Them?

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Three months ago, Senator Bernie Sanders released his Family Values Agenda, which called for 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents. Among Democratic presidential candidates, he had the issue all to himself until Thursday, when Hillary Clinton announced a plan that included the same amount of paid family leave (except that she describe it as "three months" rather than twelve weeks). So it's no surprise that Martin O'Malley, the third prominent Democrat in the presidential race (with apologies to Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee), hurried to release his own such plan.

Guess how many weeks he proposes?

“All parents—both men and women, gay or straight, married or single—should be able to take at least 12 weeks of leave, with pay," O'Malley wrote in an op-ed published Monday in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. (Though O’Malley has long supported paid leave—he included it in a five-point economic plan before launching his presidential run—he had not announced any specific framework until today.)

The 12-week timeline for paid family leave mirrors that in Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s FAMILY Act—which would create a trust fund of employer and employee contributions and make leave available to even part-time, low-wage employees—and is loosely based on successful policies in place in California and New Jersey. Advocacy groups would be thrilled to see it become a nationwide law because 12 weeks is better than zero weeks; the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't mandate paid leave. But Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, points out that twelve weeks is “at the floor of workplace protections, and not at the ceiling.” There are private businesses who already offer more, as do most developed countries. Canada, for example, allows new parents to share 35 weeks of paid leave. “Twelve weeks is where we should be starting at the national level,” Rowe-Finkbeiner said. Ellen Bravo, head of Family Values @ Work, agrees. “When you look at the rest of the world you realize what we’re working for isn’t a minimum, it’s really minimal.”

Meanwhile, the Republican presidential candidates have been either silent or opposed to federally mandated paid leave. Senator Rand Paul has refused to discuss paid leave. Carly Fiorina said on CNN, “I oppose the federal government mandating paid maternity leave to every company out there,” maintaining that businesses will adopt paid leave policies on their own to attract better talent (even though Netflix’s paid leave policy has shown that when businesses are left to their own devices, the most vulnerable employees still fall through the cracks). Marco Rubio offers his own staff 12 weeks of paid maternity leave but disagrees with making paid leave the law.

Polls show that a majority of Americans in both political parties support paid family leave. A GOP candidate with an eye toward the general election would be smart to break party ranks at next week's debate and call for 12 weeks of paid leave.

“We’re waiting for our politicians to catch up,” said Rowe-Finkbeiner. “Moms across the country are waiting with bated breath.”