LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas state employees now have additional leave available for new parents after legislation was signed by the governor Monday.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an act that updates the Arkansas catastrophic leave policy to move maternity leave from four to 12 weeks. The legislation also adds maternity leave for families with a newly placed foster child under one year old.

“We know how important it is for parents to have time to bond with their kids, to spend those initial first few weeks at home while still being able to maintain their employment,” Sanders said. “We’re really excited about this legislation.”

Catastrophic leave is available to Arkansas employees drawn from a pool of hours donated by state employees. Bill sponsor Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) explained that through the use of the pool hours, the additional leave time is provided at no cost to state taxpayers.

“Five years ago we passed the first bill that extends maternity leave for four weeks,” she said. “It was so encouraging to see male state employees donate their time to their female colleagues so they could take advantage of that four-week maternity leave. And because we did it that way it cost taxpayers zero money.”

Irvin continued to explain that monitoring the impact the four-week policy had on the catastrophic leave pool showed that leave could be extended to 12 weeks with no additional effect.

Sanders said the state has approximately 1.6 billion hours of leave in the catastrophic leave pool.

“This is a great day for women in our state,” Irvin said in closing.

The law being a great day for Arkansas women was echoed by act cosponsor Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio).

The act included an emergency clause, meaning it goes into effect immediately.