HARTFORD, CT — On an 8-5 vote Thursday, the Labor and Public Employees Committee forwarded the House a bill that would allow employees to earn up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
The bill would allow employees to start contributing a portion of their paycheck to a Family and Medical Leave Compensation Trust Fund in 2019, and to start using the system by July 1, 2020. The amount of money an employee on leave could receive would be capped at $1,000 per week.
The bill has been a priority of Democrats in the House and the Senate. Only one Republican, Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, voted in favor of the House legislation Thursday.
The other Republicans on the committee opposed the measure.
“Sometimes we have to look at the times that we’re in,” Rep. Mike Bocchino, R-Greenwich, said.
He said he wanted to support the legislation because “on its face it’s morally right.” However, he said at the moment “it just seems to me it’s giving businesses another opportunity to exit our state.”
While employers would be mandated to help their employees set up a payroll deduction into the fund, there would be no funding required from businesses.
Employees are the ones contributing to the fund so proponents of the legislation argue there’s no additional cost to employers, which is why several employers support it. At the same time, large business groups, like the National Federation of Independent Businesses, are against it.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, reminded Bocchino that employers already have to grant employees Family and Medical Leave, it’s just not paid leave.
She told him she can’t wait for the day when men can carry children. She said she’s pretty sure after going through childbirth that men would support the legislation and increase the amount of leave available.
Only 12 percent of private and 17 percent of public sector workers have access to paid leave through their employer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“No worker should be forced to choose between their health or family they love and the job they need,” the Connecticut Working Families Party said. “Paid family and medical leave will ensure that workers who need to take time off to welcome a new baby, care for an ill relative, or recover from a personal illness are not punished financially.”
This year’s legislation would apply to companies with as few as two employees.
If passed, Connecticut will become the seventh state to have paid family and medical leave. Other states providing paid family and medical leave include California, Washington, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts.
Officials from the legislature’s Commission on Women, Children and Seniors applauded passage of the bill.
“As our elected officials work to hone a plan that is both family-friendly and fiscally responsible, momentum continues to build here and nationally,” the commission said. “Paid Family and Medical leave is progressive legislation that is right for women and their families, smart for business, and keeps our state moving forward.”
Andrew Markowski, Connecticut State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said that if paid leave was such a big priority it should apply to state employees in addition to private businesses.
“Small business owners cannot afford a new mandate any more than the state can,” Markowski said. “Lawmakers are failing to understand that standing up a paid family leave program in the state of Connecticut will not only saddle taxpayers with the start up cost, but small employers will shoulder the economic burden of yet another attempt by lawmakers to legislate the day to day operation of their businesses.”