By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Legislation portrayed as a market-driven, voluntary approach to expand access to paid family leave in Kentucky was overwhelmingly passed by the state House on Monday.

The measure, which drew strong bipartisan support, sailed through the House on a 92-1 vote, sending it to the Senate for consideration. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.

House Bill 179 would allow voluntary paid family leave insurance to be available to Kentucky employers, who would choose whether to offer it as a benefit to their employees.

The goal is to expand the benefit to more workers who now can’t afford to take time away from work in times of need at home, without forcing anything onto employers.

If employers chose to offer the benefit, it would provide temporary wage replacement for workers who need to be away from work to care for a sick relative, bond with a newborn child or care for a relative in the military or is a first responder and was injured in the line of duty. Other reasons could be outlined in an employer’s benefit plan. Supporters see it as a way to help employers attract and retain workers.

“This is a market-driven policy proposal that includes no mandates on employers, workers or families,” said Republican Rep. Samara Heavrin, the bill’s lead sponsor. “And as long as I’m working on this policy, there will not be any mandates on small businesses for paid family leave.”

The measure is the result of work that began in late 2021 to develop a family leave plan that could help strengthen Kentucky families without hurting small businesses, she said.

The length of paid leave benefits would be determined by the employer’s plan.

Paid family leave is seen as an important asset to help retain women in the workforce, said Democratic Rep. Rachel Roarx, who is among the bill’s cosponsors.

“This bill is an opportunity for us to help make our state more competitive with surrounding states, and help our businesses be able to attract more and diverse folks to Kentucky,” she said.

Heavrin characterized the measure as a “great first step” for Kentuckians, while acknowledging that it would not “be enough for everyone.”

“It’s more important to pass good policy rather than to completely deprive Kentucky families for the opportunity to have any type of paid family leave,” she said.

Employers already offering paid family leave benefits through self-insurance models could also benefit. They could see lower, more consistent costs through the voluntary insurance product allowed under the measure, Republican Rep. Stephanie Dietz, another cosponsor, said previously.