Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s approval rating may be low here in Connecticut but he was popular at a Washington D.C. conference Friday where he got a round of applause after listing the progressive laws he signed this year.
The discussion, streamed live on the Internet, was hosted by the Center for American Progress and centered around the passage of paid sick day law. This year Connecticut became the first state in the nation to pass a law mandating some employers provide paid time off for workers when they are ill.
But Malloy was asked by the forum’s moderator, Center for American Progress president and CEO John Podesta, to talk about the other progressive legislation Connecticut adopted during his first year in office.
“Being the first Democrat elected as governor in the state of Connecticut in 20 years, I felt an obligation to fulfill as many of the promises that I had made as quickly as possible and ultimately not to use the excuse of the largest per capita deficit in the nation as a reason not to do those things,” he said.
He was ready to rattle off a list of his progressive accomplishments which included, the state’s new earned income tax credit program, which is the third most robust of its kind in the country.
The state also decriminalized small amounts of marijuana this year, as well as passing a law which provides in-state public college tuition rates to undocumented Connecticut students, Malloy said.
Another new law outlawed discrimination against transgendered individuals, he said. The state also began implementing the earned risk reduction credit program in the Department of Correction, designed to reduce prisoner recidivism, he said.
He concluded his list by pointing to his executive order that provides a path for state child care workers and personal care attendants to unionize.
“So it was, I think, a pretty progressive agenda,” he said.
He and the other panelists, including Seattle City Council Member Nick Licata and restaurant owner Andy Shallal, suggested that the national economic downturn made enacting progressive laws more important than ever.
Malloy said getting many of the bills passed was not an easy process. That applied especially to the paid sick days bill which was bitterly contested by conservatives and business associations, who viewed the bill as a symbol of state’s unfriendliness to businesses.
The governor said he had to put some political capital behind the bill, which passed narrowly in both legislative chambers.
“I had to walk on to the floor, not during a session, but I had to walk on to the floor of the statehouse to remind some people of commitments they had made previously before the vote was taken,” he said.
Licata, who helped get a paid sick days ordinance passed in Seattle, said it was accomplished there by negotiating with the business community. He said initially businesses were against the notion but after negotiations about a dozen small restaurants agreed to support the ordinance. The city council eventually passed it eight to one, he said.
By contrast, Malloy admitted Connecticut restaurant owners wanted nothing to do with the paid sick days bill.
“I made repeated attempts to involve the restaurant industry in discussions and they just didn’t want to come to the table. I shouldn’t say everyone didn’t want to come to the table but the association didn’t. And so we passed it without any meaningful discussions with that community,” he said.
Nicole Griffin, who represents the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said that wasn’t the case.
“I would argue that the administration and legislators who supported the bill from the get-go did not want to hear what makes this bill so difficult for restaurant employers,” she said.
Restaurant owners do not want their employees coming to work sick and that generally doesn’t happen, she said. The industry already has a working system where sick staff members switch shifts with other employees, making the law unnecessary, she said.
“We never saw hundreds of restaurant employees coming to the Capitol and begging for this bill,” she said.
Kia Murrell, assistant counsel for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said since the passage of the bill, CBIA has been holding forums across the state to help businesses make sure they are in compliance when the law takes effect in January. Many are still unhappy about the the new mandate, she said.
“Many employers are still recovering and having paid sick days on the books is one more disincentive to expanding their businesses,” she said.
Murrell said the forums are important because the law was poorly drafted and contains a number of gray areas that require clarifications. No businesses should penalized for inadvertently not complying with the mandate, she said. Because Connecticut is the only state to have a paid sick days requirement there are no preexisting guidelines or protocols to guide businesses, she said. Public officials should work together with businesses to craft solutions that prevent employers from becoming test cases in enforcing the law, she said.
“Don’t assume employers are going to do the wrong thing. Assume employers want to do the right thing,” she said.