LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday signed into law a bill creating a paid maternity leave program for state employees.


In a ceremony at the state Capitol, Hutchinson signed Senate Bill 125, now Act 182 of 2017. An emergency clause in the measure made it take effect immediately upon being signed.


Act 182 allows state employees to donate accrued sick leave and vacation days into a “catastrophic leave bank” that a female worker who has been employed by the state for at least a year can draw upon for up to four weeks of paid maternity leave during the first 12 weeks after giving birth to or adopting a child.


Employees would have to use their own sick leave or vacation time if they wanted to stay home longer than four weeks.


The law does not provide paternity leave.


The law eliminates any catastrophic leave banks already in place at state agencies and replaces them with a single bank for all agencies, to be administered by the Office of Personnel Management.


The Legislature, the Bureau of Legislative Research, Legislative Audit, the Highway and Transportation Department, the Game and Fish Commission, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Administrative Office of the Courts, constitutional offices and state colleges and universities are allowed, but not required, to participate in the catastrophic leave bank program or create their own catastrophic leave banks.


Standing around Hutchinson as he signed the bill were several legislators, including the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View; co-sponsor Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio; Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, who unsuccessfully pushed for a maternity leave program for state employees in 2013; and Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff. Also looking on were several state employees who are expecting mothers.


“This bill does not cost the taxpayers any money. It is a creative solution for state employees,” Hutchinson said. “This gives more options to mothers, it gives them a better balance with the workplace, and it gives us a better chance of retaining those high-quality workers that we need to make state government run well.”


Irvin said, “It’s a great day for women in the state of Arkansas.”