On Thursday November 16 students had the opportunity to hear from Senator Karen Spilka, Chair of the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means, about her efforts to pass legislation for statewide paid family leave in Massachusetts. Senator Spilka was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2001, where she served for three years prior to her election to the Massachusetts State Senate in 2005. Before her career in politics, Senator Spilka was an attorney in private practice, specializing in labor and employment law.
Senator Spilka began her talk discussing her path into public service. She first ran for the legislature in 2001 and won in her 7th Middlesex District. Three years later she was the first woman elected in her state senate district. Once in the senate, she chaired the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, where she viewed herself as an advocate for those with disabilities. In January 2015, Senator Spilka was appointed to serve as Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
Senator Spilka focused her talk on her paid family leave bill. Her proposed bill would create the most robust paid family and sick leave in the country. She believes that the proposed system would improve family life while also helping companies’ bottom lines through reduced turnover and improved worker morale and productivity. The specifics of her plan are sixteen weeks of paid family leave and twenty-four weeks for illness with benefits capped at $1,000 per week. Funds would originally be paid for by employees and employers with a worker making Massachusetts’ median wage contributing $2.23 per week. Her goal is to pass this bill in 2018 before a proposed ballot initiative on the subject in November 2018.
The conversation with Senator Spilka concluded with student questions. One question addressed getting more women to run for political office. Senator Spilka noted that she was only the twenty-seventh woman ever elected to the Massachusetts Senate and only the third woman to chair the Committee on Ways & Means. She highlighted the work done by Emerge Massachusetts, which is in its tenth year of recruiting and training women to run for office. Senator Spilka also discussed a recent conversation she had with a constituent who wrote to her about the problem of Massachusetts licenses requiring a person’s sex identification. Senator Spilka believed her work to address this concern exemplified the virtues of public service; she urged the audience to get involved, believing that it is one of the best callings for a lawyer.
-Zach Singer, 1L