Soapbox

Petty politics hurts children

The Legislative Women’s Caucus announces its 2016 priorities, including a family leave bill that later died in a committee.
The Legislative Women’s Caucus announces its 2016 priorities, including a family leave bill that later died in a committee. Sacramento Bee file

We have the right to expect that our leaders, regardless of political affiliation, will work to do what they believe is best for the people they represent, particularly children.

Unfortunately, some officials ignore this fundamental responsibility. Take the case of Assemblyman Roger Hernández, who recently exercised his power to settle personal political scores instead of doing the right thing for kids.

Senate Bill 1166 would have helped millions of California families by expanding key maternity and paternity leave protections. Unfortunately, that bill died when Hernández and three of his colleagues on the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment withheld their votes.

Hernández had supported a nearly identical bill last year, so why the change of heart?

He was looking for payback against a handful of female lawmakers who had called out Hernández for ugly domestic abuse allegations against him. A judge found enough merit in his ex-wife’s claim to issue a restraining order against him.

When the allegations surfaced this spring, Legislative Women’s Caucus leaders called on Hernández to take a leave from the Legislature until the issue was resolved. Hernández refused, instead focusing his energy on political payback. He refused to support the bill simply because it was a key legislative priority for the Women’s Caucus and was authored by its chairwoman.

His cynical maneuver shows why kids need a watchdog in Sacramento. Common Sense Kids Action is committed to ensuring our elected officials do what’s best for kids and calling out bad behavior. We cannot let personal vendettas stand in the way of what’s right for California’s children.

SB 1166 would have required employers with 10 or more employees to allow eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to bond with a new child. Currently, the law is limited to people who work for companies with 50 or more employees.

We know this policy is good for all California children, and its failure has real impacts on children and families. Science tells us that the first 12 weeks of bonding is critically crucial to the child and relationship with parents. That’s why Common Sense Kids Action made it a priority for this legislative session.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon did the right thing when he stripped Hernández of his committee assignments. Here’s hoping the speaker further asserts his leadership by making sure that this legislation is revived when the Legislature returns from recess next week, that it receives a fair hearing and is eventually signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

We cannot afford to have our kids used as political pawns to be used in the petty politics of cynical elected officials. The children of our state deserve better.

James P. Steyer is founder and CEO of Common Sense Kids Action, an advocacy group in San Francisco. He can be contacted at jim@commonsensemedia.org.

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