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AFTER GROWING ACCUSTOMED to getting the stick, employers may finally get a carrot from lawmakers.

As we reported last week, certain lawmakers have hit upon a way to promote sound employee benefit policy without resorting to their beloved mandate.

Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate and in several statehouses would encourage employers to provide child care assistance to employees. The Senate measure, for example, would offer tax credits to companies that: buy, build or repair day care centers near their facilities or onsite; subsidize the costs of a day care facility; fund resource and referral services; and reserve slots for employees in a licensed day care facility. The state measures, pending in Indiana, Missouri and Ohio, are fairly similar.

We are impressed with this measure not only because of the manner in which it would promote its goal, but also because it would benefit many employers.

The legislation would reward employers that already voluntarily provide child care assistance to workers and would provide an incentive for other companies to do so.

We see child care benefits as a win-win situation for employers and their employees. The benefits for workers are obvious: convenience, peace of mind and often greater affordability. For employers, the return comes in the form of greater loyalty, fewer distractions and more productivity.

And the legislative proposals are broad enough that they would be beneficial to employers that can afford to make a modest investment, such as resource and referral services, as well as to companies that build onsite facilities.

In fact, perhaps the only drawback to the legislation is its focus on child care. We would like to see the measure broadened to provide incentives for employers to provide dependent care assistance, which could include children as well as ailing parents, spouses or partners.

For many workers, the stress of finding care for an ailing relative is as great as finding day care for a child. It also would broaden the benefit's appeal beyond that segment of the workforce made up of working parents.

We do not naively expect lawmakers to suddenly embrace tax incentives as the preferred method of setting benefit policy; for one, it would pose a drain on tax revenues they would be hard-pressed to make up elsewhere.

But, in today's climate, in which benefit mandates and government intervention in health care are becoming more frequent, it is refreshing to see proposals that would preserve the right of employers to choose.

We also happen to think the measures give employers a good choice.