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Lawmaker Proposes Bill to Expand Military Paternity Leave to 12 Weeks

In this July 31, 2015, photo, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth appears before the Chicago City Council's finance committee in Chicago. M. Spencer Green/AP
In this July 31, 2015, photo, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth appears before the Chicago City Council's finance committee in Chicago. M. Spencer Green/AP

A newly proposed law would increase male service member's paternity leave from 10 days to 12 weeks, matching the maternity leave given to female service members under an expanded policy recently implemented by the Defense Department.

The bill, known as the Military Parental Leave Modernization Act, was proposed March 21 by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, military veteran and mother. It would allow any service member, regardless of gender or marital status, to take 12 weeks of leave following a child's birth, adoption or foster placement.

"I hope Congress will step up and pass my Military Parental Leave Modernization Act to secure the rights and protections that all new parents, both in and out of uniform, deserve," Duckworth said in a statement on the proposal. "Doing so will only make our military stronger and more competitive."

Currently, new mothers are given 12 weeks of maternity leave after the birth of a child. Commanders are not permitted to deny that leave. Fathers are given 10 days of paternity leave at the commander's discretion. Newly adoptive parents are granted three weeks of leave for one parent. Service members who foster parent are not given non-chargeable leave.

Pentagon officials have said they plan to ask Congress to expand paternity leave to 14 days for both a birth and an adoption as part of their Force of the Future personnel proposals. The proposals included no other expansions for adoptive or foster parents, and do not apply to parents who are not married to the father or mother of their child.

Military family benefits experts, speaking on background, said they were surprised by Duckworth's proposal and don't expect it to pass. They said they do, however, expect the paternity expansion to 14 days to move forward, likely as part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act process.

Some lawmakers, however, have been skeptical about expanding benefits included in the Force of the Future rollout, such as the 14-day paternity leave plan, a proposal to increase military daycare hours and the expansion of "mothers' rooms" across all installations department-wide.

"[It] has been an outrageous waste of official time and resources during a period of severe fiscal constraints," Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told acting Pentagon undersecretary for personnel Brad Carson, the plan's designer, at his confirmation hearing. "It illustrates the worst aspects of a bloated and inefficient defense organization."

Carson has since announced his resignation, effective April 8.

--Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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