Annapolis city employees may be able to take off up to 12 weeks to care for children or ill family members if the City Council approves a bill proposed by Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8.

The bill would let employees take the unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, a foster child, or an ill child, spouse, parent or other dependent. The legislation also would allow parents time off during school vacations to care for children up to age 14.

"It recognizes the importance of the family," Moyer told the council's rules committee Monday night. "It makes good business sense to have this kind of policy."

The rules committee approved the bill and sent it on to the full council for a vote, which could come next month.

Moyer, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Teachers Association, said inspiration for the bill came from three years' work as a member of the state Family Leave Task Force. "I had been a part of making these happen in other places," she said.

Baltimore, the state and Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties already have such policies, Moyer said. Anne Arundel County does not.

Annapolis now approves leave requests on a case-by-case basis, said Personnel Director Thomas Engelke. The city already lets people take leaves for maternity and adoption, as well as personal illness, professional study, or to serve in a professional or government-sponsored organization.

Moyer's plan would expand the list, giving employees the chance to care for their families during times of need or crisis. The workers would have to pick up the full cost of maintaining their health benefits during such leaves, however, paying the city's share in addition to their own contributions.

Janelle Cousino, executive director of the Maryland Citizen Action Coalition, Michaele Cohen, director of the YWCA Woman's Center, and Rose Thorman, of the Maryland chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, all spoke in favor of the plan.

Cousino said the proposal wouldn't be abused by employees. "It's unpaid leave," she said. "How many people can afford it very long? It's a safety net."

Engelke didn't oppose the plan, but he raised several concerns. He said workers would lose life insurance benefits if they died while on family leave. Also, the time they took off would not be counted toward their retirement benefits.

He said department heads might have a difficult time covering for employees on leave. The city has 457 employees. Larger governments like Prince George's County and Baltimore City have 4,000-5,000 employees, he said. "They have the depth we don't have," Engelke said.

"I think we're sending the wrong message in a fiscally tight year," he said.

Engelke said he thought providing day care for employees was a more pressing need, and suggested using the city Recreation Center as a day-care center.

Aldermen Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, and Ruth C. Gray, R-Ward 4, voted for Moyer's bill. The third committee member, Alderman Theresa DeGraff, R-Ward 7, was absent.

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