(Updated 1:45 p.m.) With the state budget and other priorities taking precedence, some at the Capitol doubted there was enough time to institute paid family leave, but a group of lawmakers remain hopeful.
Asked by a reporter last week how big of a priority paid family leave is for the the legislature, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said: “I don’t think it’s necessarily our highest priority this year. Getting a budget done is a very high priority, getting transportation started is a very high priority.”
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, who co-chairs the Labor Committee, remained hopeful the bill will get a vote this year. He said Tuesday that he’s drafting an amendment that would eliminate most of the cost to the state and expects there to be a vote in the Appropriations Committee soon. He said there’s still time left to get a vote on the proposal, but he is aware the clock is ticking.
The push to institute paid family leave — which allows workers to earn income if they take time off for illness, to have a baby, or to care for sick family members — has been gaining traction in Connecticut and beyond.
“We’re obviously very proud to be the first state in the nation to pass paid sick days and if the legislature passes something, we will carefully review it,” Devon Puglia, the governor’s spokesman, said Monday.
While Connecticut has a state Family Medical Leave Act and there also is a federal FMLA, both of which allow workers to take a leave without the fear of losing their jobs, the time off guaranteed under those acts is unpaid.
Earlier this year, the Labor and Public Employees Committee introduced H.B. 6932, which aims to establish a Family and Medical Leave Compensation Program that would give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave from their jobs.
The bill passed out of the Labor Committee in March by a 9-3 vote and was tabled for the House calendar in early April.
Under the bill, workers would contribute a percentage of their weekly earnings to a Family and Medical Leave Compensation Trust Fund. In turn, should employees need to take a medical leave to care for themselves or a family member, they would receive 100 percent of their average weekly earnings up to a maximum compensation of $1,000 per week.
The bill also would reduce, from 75 to two, the minimum number of employees that makes an employer subject to FMLA in Connecticut, meaning more businesses would have to abide by it. It would also expand the definition of “family member” so workers can take leave to care for grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings.
“Paid family need is critical to women and men throughout Connecticut,” said Christine Palm, communications director at the state Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. “Most of the people eligible for extended leave through FMLA can’t afford to take it and so some form of compensation — employee-funded, at no cost to taxpayers — would allow Connecticut residents to spend time with their spouses after a stroke, with their teenager who’s been in a car crash, or to care for themselves as they go through chemotherapy treatments.”
While changing the law would not cost taxpayers directly, it would cost the state millions of dollars, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis.
Among other things, the bill would increase the number of state employees out on leave, according to OFA. Currently, between 3 and 6 percent of executive branch employees are on family or medical leave at any given time, according to the office, and the state averages about 1,000 new applications for leave monthly.
If passed, the legislation would bring additional costs to state agencies that have large numbers of employees, according to OFA, like the departments of Correction, Emergency Services and Public Protection, Children and Families, Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Developmental Services.
The OFA analysis found the bill would cost the Department of Labor $4.8 million in 2016 and $13.4 million in 2017.
Tercyak said there will be an initial cost to get the program up and running, but he expects to eliminate most of the cost to state agencies. He was unable to offer specifics about exactly how that would happen.
Under current law, Connecticut’s FMLA covers workers if there are 75 or more employees at their workplace and they have worked 1,000 hours during the prior 12 months, not including vacation, holidays, or sick leave.
The state FMLA, in its current form, allows up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave per 24-month period, or 24 weeks for state employees.
When it comes to the private sector, the Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that there are currently 3,127 employers with 1,054,635 employees covered by existing FMLA law; it is projected that the bill would expand coverage to 98,000 employers with about 1,666,400 employees.
In 2013 the legislature passed a special act that created a task force to study the feasibility of creating a system that would provide short-term benefits to workers who needed to take medical leave.
It is an important thing that impacts people during times of need as well as during happy occasions, such as when they give birth or adopt, Palm said.
“Paid leave is gaining momentum nationally because people know it applies to us all at some point in our lives,” Palm said. “We hope our elected officials understand that Connecticut has the opportunity to become a leader in a paid family leave policy, just as we were with the original passage of the FMLA here in Connecticut.”