Last year, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, successfully led the fight to sustain President Bush's veto of a Democratic bill that would have forced employers to give workers unpaid leave to care for newborn children or sick family members.
But on Thursday, Hatch introduced a parental-leave bill of his own.The main difference between his and Democrats' is that Hatch's would not hold open jobs for parents but would require employers to rehire them to fill the next available slot when they are ready to return without losing seniority or pension benefits.
The Democratic version vetoed last year required employers with at least 50 employees to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in one year for workers to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or a seriously ill parent, child, spouse or themselves.
Bush and Hatch argued that Democratic bill - pushed by Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn. - ignored the realities of the workplace and put a heavy burden on employers by forcing them to keep jobs vacant and open.
About his new American Family Protection Act of 1991, Hatch said, "Family obligations cannot be measured in weeks. This bill allows parents a six-year leave policy and a two-year benefit for those taking care of an ill child or elderly parents.
"A seriously ill person may not recover in 12 weeks. And most authorities say bonding is not possible in three months."
Hatch's bill would require restoration of employment when a similar position is or becomes available, and allow the employees to return with full seniority and other benefits.
Hatch charged that the bill by Kennedy and Dodd - which they reintroduced last month - is deficient.
"Current bills shortchange children," Hatch said. "And there is nothing more frightening than learning that your child needs constant medical attention in a fight for life and worrying if that attention means your job is lost."
The competing versions of parental-leave bills will come before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, where Kennedy is chairman and Hatch is the ranking Republican. Dodd is the chairman of the subcommittee that will oversee the bills.