Paid family leave debate continues in Connecticut (CT Post,1/15/2017)

Every year since the Campaign for Paid Family Leave was founded in 2012, Chair Catherine Bailey said she has seen progress toward establishing the benefit in Connecticut.

In 2013, the General Assembly established a task force to study the issue, with recommendations released the following year. In 2015 and 2016, analyses were conducted to determine how a system could be implemented. A report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released last year determined that it could be feasible.

“The exciting thing is I think we’re coming to a place in Connecticut where policymakers are no longer asking why this is needed,” said Bailey, who is also public policy director for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund. “They’re asking how we can get it done.”

Advocates of paid family leave also received a boost earlier this month when Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney said a paid leave law should be enacted this year.

“Everyone should be able to care for a a newborn child, a sick family member or for themselves in the event of an illness without the added stress of a financial hardship,” Looney, a Democrat who is recovering from a recent kidney transplant surgery, said in his General Assembly Opening Day remarks.

Looney told Hearst Connecticut Media he has proposed a bill that would start the conversation. “If you don’t introduce it, it will never pass,” he said.

State Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said he expects it won’t be easy to get Republican members on board, but said it’s a fight worth fighting.

Opponents of a statewide mandate say it should be up to each individual businesses to determine whether it’s a benefit they want to provide. Some legislators, including state Rep. Themis Klarides, Republican minority leader, have spoken out against paid family leave laws in the past.

“(Republicans) have a bigger presence and we’ll have to work with them and find a middle ground, like with anything else we do at the Capitol,” Rosario said.

After Republicans won an equal number of seats in the state Senate last year, with Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman having the potential to break a tie in favor of Democrats, the two parties reached a power-sharing agreement last month. Republicans now have the right to force a vote on what business comes up in the Senate.

Looney’s bill, which has been referred to the Labor Committee, is similar to past drafts, establishing an employee-funded pool that would be used to pay eligible claimants up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year for the birth of a child, a non-work-related illness or to care for a family member.

Past bills have set different requirements for how much an employee would have to make to receive the benefit, how many employees a company would need for the law to apply and the maximum a worker could receive in weekly pay, usually up to $1,000 a week.

Looney said he is open to negotiating the details. But the Connecticut Business & Industry Association has warned it would be costly to implement and burdensome for employers.

“We 100 percent support businesses that voluntarily adopt one of these program for their employees,” said Eric Gjede, counsel for CBIA. “What we don’t support is an across-the-board mandate that affects businesses of all sizes. It imposes a bunch of new burdens on businesses.”

He said with the state’s budget woes, it is not in a position to add the 120 or so staffers it has been estimated are needed to run the program.

Gjede said the state should consider providing incentives for companies to offer the benefit on their own. “Try using the carrot not the stick for once,” he said.

Steven Hernandez, executive director for the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, said he understands concerns about the cost. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has estimated the upfront costs of such a system in Connecticut at more than $13.6 million.

“The problem of course is the upfront funding,” Hernandez said. “The state can’t do that. But what if we were able to engage a skilled nonprofit provider that could do this work and fund the upfront costs?”

He said in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., nonprofit insurers are handling what he calls the “client-facing” aspects of certain benefits.

In that kind of system, appeals and decisions would still be handled by the state, but a nonprofit could handle the intake of applications, deal with claimants and fund the upfront costs, he said. The insurer could then be paid back through the fund.

“This hasn’t been done before in quite this way,” Hernandez said. “But throughout this work we have made sure that in no way do we want to privatize this benefit. If a for-profit venture was running this benefit, profit would prevail.”

Looney said the state should not be playing catchup on these issues, but should be leading the way, as it did when it became the first state to require paid sick time.

A handful of states, including California, Rhode Island and New York, have passed paid family leave laws.

“Other states have adopted this and most other nations that are advanced democracies have adopted this,” Looney said. “It’s a humane employment policy.”

Original Article