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Opinion | Lawmakers must fight to restore paid parental leave after Orr’s cruel move

The recent bipartisan push to give Alabama educators 12 weeks of paid parental leave was a promising development.

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The recent bipartisan push to give Alabama educators 12 weeks of paid parental leave was a promising development for a state where teachers have long lacked this essential support. This bill would have provided much-needed stability for educators, covering leave for childbirth, adoption, miscarriage, or stillbirth, recognizing that these events require time and space for physical recovery and emotional healing.

Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, who sponsored the original bill, stressed the importance of paid leave not just for mothers but for fathers and families as a whole. She noted that paid parental leave supports the stability and unity of families, echoing broader societal values of promoting family bonding. This bill was a significant step toward aligning Alabama with the benefits of paid parental leave observed in other states.

However, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the powerful chair of the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation Education, introduced a substitute bill that cut the paid leave down to six weeks and limited it solely to women who give birth. This change disregarded the emotional and physical impact of miscarriages, stillbirths, and adoption on families. It effectively narrowed the scope of who could benefit from paid leave, disregarding the reality that these events profoundly affect both parents.

This isn’t just a setback; it’s a morally reprehensible act that reveals a troubling pattern in Orr’s legislative maneuvers.

By curtailing the scope of the bill under the guise of alignment with a similar House measure, Orr demonstrates a disturbing lack of empathy and a disregard for the well-being of educators and their families. His previous attempts to derail progressive labor legislation add to this concerning legacy. His track record shows a pattern of obstructing legislation that could benefit working families in Alabama. Last session, Orr attempted to sabotage a bill to eliminate taxes on overtime pay, a measure that would provide significant financial relief to working Alabamians.

Over the years, Orr has developed a reputation for being hostile to legislation that benefits women and children. His approach to the childcare tax credit is a perfect example. He seems ready to swing a sledgehammer at any bill that provides financial relief to families as if it’s a personal affront to his philosophy. His attitude is so extreme that it makes one wonder if he has any empathy for working parents struggling to balance the demands of work and family life.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Orr’s disdain extends beyond legislation that supports families. His recent comments about Black citizens are equally alarming. He stated that “any investment in the black belt is a bad investment.” This kind of rhetoric is not just offensive; it’s a direct attack on the progress toward racial equality. It reveals a deep-seated bias that has no place in a society striving for justice and fairness.

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Orr’s hostility toward marginalized groups, whether they’re women, children, or Black citizens, raises serious questions about his fitness for public office. Elected officials are supposed to represent all constituents, not just those who fit their narrow worldview. Yet, Orr’s actions and words make it clear that he has little interest in supporting anyone who doesn’t align with his regressive ideals.

Let’s be clear: what Orr is doing is not only cruel — it is immoral and dishonest.

The evidence supporting the benefits of paid parental leave is overwhelming. Research consistently shows that adequate leave contributes significantly to better maternal and infant health outcomes, reduces the likelihood of postnatal depression, lowers infant mortality rates, and enhances the effectiveness of breastfeeding — outcomes critical for individual families and public health at large.

Studies have found that paid leave for fathers improves their engagement with infants, decreases depressive symptoms in mothers, and enhances children’s development. The exclusion of fathers in Orr’s substitute bill reinforces a regressive moral attitude and denies children the opportunity to bond with both parents.

Moreover, the benefits of a comprehensive leave policy extend beyond immediate health outcomes, fostering a more inclusive, equitable workforce. Current disparities in leave accessibility disproportionately affect Black, Latino, and low-income workers—groups already marginalized in our economic structure. Orr’s narrow version of the bill perpetuates these inequalities and sends a disheartening message to all educators: your needs are secondary.

It is imperative for the Alabama Senate to challenge this regressive policy. Senators must advocate for a return to the original, inclusive 12-week proposal, ensuring that all educators—regardless of gender, race, or family status—receive the support they deserve. This issue transcends partisan politics; it is about basic human decency and recognizing educators’ pivotal role in our society.

Although Orr’s substitute passed out of committee, it is not too late for decent and caring lawmakers to reverse Orr’s cruel maneuver.

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Alabama has the opportunity to set a national precedent by adopting a compassionate and comprehensive approach to parental leave. It is a chance to affirm that in a state where education is valued, so too are the educators who dedicate their lives to nurturing future generations. Let’s not falter in our commitment to them. Senators, it’s time to take a stand, restore the full 12-week paid leave, and honor our teachers with the respect and support they rightfully deserve.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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