Scottsdale dad fighting for leave after death of child

WASHINGTON Scottsdale father Barry Kluger returned to the starting line Tuesday in his years-long effort to expand federal law to allow parents who have lost a child to take leave from their jobs.

For the third straight Congress, bills were introduced in both the Senate and the House to make the change.

“I’ve learned that it really is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Kluger of his efforts to add to the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. The law allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover from an illness or to take care of a newborn baby or sick child, parent or spouse.

Kluger’s 18-year-old daughter, Erica, died in a car accident in 2001. He was able to take time off because he owns his own advertising and public relations firm. But he discovered what he believes was an oversight in the law when he began to connect with other grieving parents.

He thinks the chances for the legislation are better this Congress because Republican Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York introduced the House version of the legislation jointly.

The House bill is called the Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act. In addition to Kluger’s daughter, it honors Sarah Grace Weippert, a 12-year-old from New York who died in 2002 after battling leukemia, and the two children of Kelly Farley of Illinois who died as infants.

Gosar said expanding the family leave law to include grieving parents “is beyond reasonable and should have been included when the legislation was originally passed.”

Said Israel: “Parents should never have to decide between their job and taking the proper time needed for both themselves and their family.”

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana introduced the Senate version of the legislation, called the Parental Bereavement Act, and was joined by seven senators as co-sponsors, all Democrats.

“The scariest thought for any parent is having to bury their child, and they shouldn’t face losing their livelihood on top of that,” Tester said.

Bills were introduced in the previous two sessions of Congress, by Tester in the Senate and by Israel in the House. Tester’s 2013 bill had 13 co-sponsors, all Democrats. Israel’s legislation that year had 43 co-sponsors, all Democrats except Gosar. Neither bill received a committee hearing.

Kluger said he and other backers of the legislation have been active on social media and continue to promote an online petition that has almost 87,000 signatures.

The next step would be for the legislation to receive a committee hearing in the House or Senate. To that end, Kluger met in Arizona last year with Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

He said Kline was supportive but made no promises.

Republicans, Kluger said, are generally leery of increasing federal regulations on business. But he believes there is an economic case for expanding federal leave to include parents grieving over the death of a child.

If an employee who loses a child has to come back to work right away and can’t perform, they could be fired. “The investment you made (in that employee) goes right out the window,” Kluger said.

Even if the legislation doesn’t advance in this two-year Congress, Kluger plans to keep trying.

“The issue is not going away,” Kluger said. “The psychological and physical toll on parents doesn’t change. And I’m only 61. I figure I’ve got another 20 years to work on this.”

Contact Bill Theobald at or follow on Twitter @BillTheobald.

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