Christine Stuart
State Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown (Christine Stuart)

A bill to establish paid family leave narrowly passed the Appropriations Committee despite uncertainty Tuesday about the fiscal implications of the measure and two amendments still up for consideration on the House floor.

The measure was approved by a vote of 29-27.

The fiscal analysis for the bill estimated a price tag of $4.8 million in 2016 and $13.4 million in 2017 for the program, which would provide up to 12 weeks of paid family leave through a state-administered trust fund. The program would allow workers to earn income while taking time off for illness, to have a baby, or to care for sick family members.

But state Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, told committee members there would be no net fiscal cost for the employee-funded program. Amendments, which were not taken up by the Appropriations Committee, would require any trust fund start-up money expended from the general fund to be repaid no later than June 30, 2016.

Appropriations Committee co-chairwoman Toni Walker said the leadership of the Labor Committee asked that debate on two amendments take place on the House floor instead of at the committee level.

State Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, questioned the move. “I find it interesting that we, as the Appropriations Committee having to deal with fiscal notes, have an amendment that removes the fiscal note, yet we’re not going to take it up.”

Jo A. Roberts of the Legislative Commissioner’s Office said it could take up to 15 days to finalize an amendment if approved in committee, though it’s more likely that it would take about a week.

But the session ends in just eight days on June 3.

State Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, said he sees a lack of commitment to the idea of paid family leave at this time. Members of the committee confirmed that neither the governor’s proposed budget nor the Republican’s alternative budget included money for the program.

“I’m not sure exactly what the purpose of referring bills to the Appropriations Committee at this stage is, but certainly comparing the bill to what’s in the budget to see if there’s enough money to fund it is always at least one of the guideposts I’ve used to try to decide whether to vote yes or no on a bill,” O’Neill said.

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.

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. It allows up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave per 24-month period, or 24 weeks for state employees.

Tuesday’s vote was the latest leg of a journey that gained traction with the creation of a paid family leave task force in 2013 was hailed by the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women Executive Director Carolyn Treiss.

“Today, the Appropriations Committee voted on a piece of historic legislation on paid family and medical leave, which has been gaining momentum and support amongst members of the Connecticut General Assembly, and, if passed, would be the most comprehensive in the nation. This is a huge step forward for the financial security, peace of mind and wellbeing of Connecticut’s women and families,” Treiss said in a statement.