HARTFORD — Two proposals for a paid family and medical leave program cleared a key legislative committee this week.
The Labor and Public Employees committee approved a House bill by an 8 to 5 vote. Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, committee co-chairman, was the lone Republican vote in favor of the proposal.
Miner said he voted to get the bill out of committee because Republican leaders have expressed a desire to work on a bipartisan compromise with Democrats, who have made a bigger push for paid leave than in past sessions. Bills for a paid leave program have cleared the labor committee each of the past two years, but have failed to get a vote in either chamber. Miner said the bill “provides the framework...to allow that to continue,” but also predicted he didn’t see himself supporting the final product. He voted against a Senate version, which passed the committee with a 7-6 party-line vote, that had “in essence the same language.”
Each bill proposes the creation of a trust fund that would collect a percentage of employees’ paychecks, although the amount isn’t yet specified. A study last year by the Women’s Policy Research Institute suggested collecting 0.54 percent of earnings from eligible employees, which would generate on average $430 annually, but critics questioned if that would be sufficient.
The program, which would be administered by the state Department of Labor, would pay 100 percent of wages, up to $1,000 weekly, for employees who take off up to 12 weeks from work due to the birth of a child or to care for a sick relative.
Sen. Catherine A. Osten, D-Sprague, said the creation of a paid family and medical leave program would “bring Connecticut in-line with other developed nations.”
The U.S. is the only one of 41 developed countries that doesn’t mandate a paid parental leave program, according to Pew Research.
So far six states have required paid family and medical leave, but still only 12 percent of employees in the private sector and 17 percent in the public sector have worked-offered paid leave, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Republicans said the program would make Connecticut less attractive to business at a time when the state continues to struggle with its recovery from the 2008 recession. The state Department of Labor reported Friday that Connecticut lost 200 jobs in 2016, meaning the state still hasn’t regained all of the jobs lost in the 2008 recession.
“If businesses want to do this voluntarily and set this up...they’re certainly welcome to do so, but to now put another mandate on our businesses — what are we saying to them?” said Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield.
Other Republicans said they supported the intent, but agreed the state’s economy is not strong enough.
Osten said the program wouldn’t create additional financial burdens because employers would need to hire temporary replacements for workers who take leave regardless of whether the program exists. Federal law allows for employees to take up to 12 weeks, but doesn’t guarantee payment. Osten also said the bill will particularly help women, who are often the ones who need to take time off from work to care for sick relatives.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association remains opposed to the bill. CBIA said during a public hearing last month that it would increase taxes because of the DOL’s responsibilities.