More than 450 state employees take paid parental leave under new law

Midnight feedings, early wake-ups, and dozens of diaper changes--the first few weeks of a newborn's life can be overwhelming for any parent.  

First-time mother, Erin Schulberg, said she cannot imagine doing it without the help of her husband, Michael Polacek.  

"We try to help each other take naps and relieve each other and change diapers. He's just getting me water when I need it, like little things he's doing to make my life easier," Schulberg explained.

The couple's daughter, Norah, was born August 13 and because of a new Georgia law, Polacek has been able to stay home with his wife and baby.

House Bill 146 went into effect July 1 and allows state and public school employees to take up to 120 hours of paid parental leave after the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. To qualify, an employee must have worked for the state or board of education for at least six months.   

Polacek works for the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.  

"There's something about the first three weeks. There's so much going on and we're adjusting to our life," said Polacek.  "It's a spiritual, emotional, and physical experience and together as a unit, a family unit, we get to be present for that."

Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, helped push for the passage of the legislation.

"This is really the kind of measure that touches lives and makes a difference to families," Speaker Ralston said.  "It will be a message to the state workers who probably could make more money in the private sector in many cases that we appreciate them working for the state and we value their service." 

The law applies to about 260,000 employees in Georgia.  According to data from the Speaker's office, 143 state employees have used 13,440 hours of paid parental leave since July 1.  324 University System of Georgia workers have taken leave through the new law.

It is not clear, though, how many public school employees have used parental leave so far because individual school districts keep their own records.  

Polacek said he recently made the decision to continue his career with the state instead of looking for a job in the private sector.  

"We're passionate about the work, especially at the department of behavioral health," said Polacek. "That decision was made a lot easier because of this bill that was passed.  So, we're just extremely grateful."

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