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February 20, 2019

Paid family and medical leave bill passes labor committee

Photo | Contributed House and Senate Democrats earlier this month pledged their support to adopt paid family and medical leave and a $15-per-hour state minimum wage.

A legislative committee has approved a statewide paid family and medical leave bill, a key step in getting proposed laws before the two chambers of the General Assembly for consideration.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee on Tuesday voted 9 to 5 in favor of identical measures (Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 5003), which would provide up to 12 weeks of coverage a year of paid leave for workers for their own illness or to care for an ill family member.

The bills guarantees workers will receive 100 percent of their pay -- up to $1,000 per week -- during their leave. It also ensures they will not be terminated or penalized for taking leave.

For example, the program would cover individuals leaving work for a personal illness, birth of a child, care of a child, spouse or parent suffering a serious health condition. It would also cover people dealing with family violence or those undergoing surgery for organ or bone marrow transplant, among other reasons.

The statewide program would be funded through a new payroll deduction, with Connecticut workers contributing about one-half of 1 percent of their paycheck. The half percent payroll tax would raise an estimated $400 million per year, according to Gov. Ned Lamont’s $43 billion proposed biennium state budget, which includes a similarly designed program.

It would also cost the state Department of Labor about $5.2 million to get the program running, via one-time startup and administrative costs until program revenues are received, budget documents show.

The bill has been a top priority this year for progressive Democrats, who hold a majority in both the House and Senate. Gov. Lamont has also advocated for the measure, and on Wednesday included a similar proposal in his budget.

"Passing a paid family and medical leave program will ensure that workers who need to take time off for a new baby or recover from illness are not punished financially, and businesses do not risk losing good workers during these emergencies," the governor said during a joint session of the legislature on Wednesday.

Last week, the labor committee listened to hours of public testimony on renewed paid family and medical leave legislation from those on both sides of the issue.

Proponents argued the measure, proposed in the legislature over recent years, would protect individuals who are financially limited during extended illnesses in their family. Those in favor also said mandated paid leave also helps low-wage workers, who face tradeoffs of either taking time off, going to work sick or forgoing their pay.

Adopting paid family and medical leave, they say, would also increase the state’s competitiveness with nearby states that have also approved some form of paid leave for workers, including Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.

Eric Gjede, vice president of government affairs for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA), again testified in opposition to the measure last week, claiming mandated paid leave would harm businesses as they would have difficulty offsetting workforce absences.

After Tuesday’s committee approval, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) railed against the measure, calling it “unrealistic” and “unaffordable.” Fasano also said the bill too broadly defines non-family members.

“Anyone who suggests this bill as written has even the slightest chance of passing is purposely misleading the public,” he said in a statement.

This story has been updated

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Before biz crowd, Lamont defends min. wage, paid family medical leave

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