COLUMBIA, S.C. — Governor Henry McMaster put his political weight behind a proposal for paid parental leave in South Carolina for all state employees. 

The bill would give state employees whom adopt, give birth to, or foster children 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

Currently, employees can take family leave, but it is often unpaid, unless employees stockpile vacation time and sick days.

In a short press conference, surrounded by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, McMaster announced his support for the proposal and urged lawmakers to pass it quickly.

“Not have to go to work, not have to take sick leave, and all that. Or, not being at work because they don’t have leave cause they’re worried about the child at home. So this is a big plus for our economy,” McMaster said at the press conference.

The Governor said the state’s recent economic prosperity and surge in job growth made it the perfect storm to improve the lives of state employees.

“According to statistics, morale goes up, retention is increased, and loyalty to the job is better and you have happy mommas, you have happy daddies, and more importantly, you have happy children,” McMaster said.

The proposed bills, one each in the Senate and House, were introduced by Democratic lawmakers Senator Darrell Jackson and Representative Beth Bernstein.

“All it needs is his signature, if we can just get it to his desk,” Bernstein said about McMaster’s support.

Senator Jackson, representing Richland County, said in February he was inspired to propose the bill after his administrative assistant became pregnant and came to work even when she shouldn’t have.

“Hopefully, when this bill passes, our future employees, current employees, would not be stressed out. They would know we would have done the right thing, and we would give them the time to spend with their children or their family,” Jackson said during the press conference.

Jackson added his assistant had a healthy baby, but he wanted to help more families in her position.

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One of those fellow employees is Mary Lucas, a visibly pregnant state employee who attended Wednesday’s press conference.

“Before I was able to have my first daughter, I had to work for the state of South Carolina for several years in order to accrue enough leave to take paid leave in order to stay home with my daughter,” Lucas said.

Lucas, an employee of the Department of Natural Resources, continued, saying a few years later she had to start the same process for her planned second child. However, her daughter became ill and was sent to a children’s hospital for 12 days, making it difficult for Lucas to keep her leave, needed for her baby due in May, and care for her daughter.

“I really feel passionate about this legislation, I feel encouraged we have the support of the Governor,” Lucas added.

“This is a good thing for the state, good thing for our people,” McMaster said.

The Governor said he hopes this sets a precedent for private business in the state as well as improving the ability to recruit and retain quality state employees.

Both bills are in the infancy stage in the House and Senate, it’s unclear when they’ll come up for votes in either chamber.