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6 weeks of paid parental leave coming soon in South Carolina

Perpetual Fostering

Starting in October, state employees in South Carolina are entitled to six weeks of parental leave after giving birth or adopting children.

Surrounded by Republican and Democratic lawmakers who worked together to pass the bill, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster held a signing ceremony Thursday for the law he put his signature to back in May.

The law provides the six weeks of leave at full salary for the primary parent or caretaker of a baby and two weeks for the other parent for both natural births and adoptions. It also provides two weeks paid leave for foster parents who take in a new child.

"Mamas and daddies need to be with their babies as much as they can," McMaster said.

State agencies are being told about the leave and the rules this week, said Karen Wingo, state human resources director at the Department of Administration.

The new law has a special place in her heart because Wingo's children, now 3 and 5, were born while she worked for the state and she said she did "everything from kissed boo boos and wiped runny noses, dried tears, given snacks, attempted to entertain children" while working.

"One time my 2-year-old decided it was a good time to yell into the phone while I was briefing the governor," Wingo said. "I know how hard it can be to be a working parent."

The leave bill is not just good for families, but also helps the state retain its best employees with an extra benefit, Wingo said. The bill is also a great example of what lawmakers can do when they work across party lines to approve policies that make society better, Democratic Rep. Beth Bernstein said.

"Bonding time is crucial," Bernstein said.

The House approved 12 weeks of leave, but senators had to work to get their body to agree to six, Democratic Sen. Darrell Jackson said.

Jackson backed the bill after a woman in his office who looked too sick to work as her pregnancy ended told him she had to save every sick day and vacation day she could to spend just a few weeks with her new baby.

As the Republican-dominated General Assembly considers a near-total abortion ban, Jackson said they need to consider bumping leave up to 12 weeks and take other steps to ensure health and child care to support children after they are born.

"I would challenge us to be pro-quality life," Jackson said.

The governor said he is willing to consider expanding leave if lawmakers decide to support it next year.

"We'll see what the other priorities are. It's a good idea. I like it," McMaster said.