Christine Stuart photo
Catherine Bailey, chair of the Campaign for Paid Family Leave and policy director for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, talks about paid family and medical leave (Christine Stuart photo)

More than a dozen lawmakers and advocates said Wednesday that it’s embarrassing the United States is the only developed nation without paid family and medical leave.

That’s why they want to make Connecticut the fourth state in the nation to make sure its residents continue to get paid if they decide to have a child, take care of a sick family member, or seek medical attention for themselves.

New Jersey, California and Rhode Island are the three states that currently offer some form of paid family and medical leave.

“This is an issue that will be at the forefront of the legislature’s agenda this year,” said Catherine Bailey, chair of the Campaign for Paid Family Leave and policy director for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund.

Families are living paycheck to paycheck and “workers are putting their health in jeopardy just to put food on the table,” Bailey said. “It’s shameful and embarrassing that the United States is the only developed country in the world without a system of paid family and medical leave.”

Paid family leave is a concept that looked as if it was all but dead last year until lawmakers were able to allocate $140,000 to hire a consultant and an actuary to crunch the numbers and tell the state what it needs to do in order to create a fund to help pay for up to 12 weeks of leave for employees.

The program, if implemented, would be mandatory for all employees.

The recommendations, which will offer guidance to the state about how to go about setting up a fund to support the program, is expected to be released next week.

Bailey said this year’s recommendations will likely mirror last year’s legislation.

Last year’s bill would give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave from their jobs. Under that 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.

“We often in Connecticut get criticized for not being business friendly, and this is clearly a business-friendly piece of legislation,” Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said. “This is not something that will cost businesses money.”

But the National Federation of Independent Business called the proposal “preposterous.”

NFIB’s Connecticut State Director Andrew Markowski said it would hurt small businesses because it would apply to companies with as few as two people, when the federal Family and Medical Leave law only applies to companies with 50 or more employees.

“These dramatic changes will harm the most vulnerable of small businesses and make Connecticut’s family leave bill one of the strictest in the country,” Markowski said.

Small businesses would be unable to afford the absence of an employee for a prolonged period of time.

But it’s unclear exactly what impact the bill will have on small business because the legislation has not been written. It was raised last week as a concept by the Labor and Public Employees Committee.

Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, who co-chairs the Labor and Public Employees Committee, said he’s encouraged by the diversity of supporters for the legislation. He said it’s being supported by more than the “usual suspects,” which gives him hope.

He said he hears stories from his Republican colleagues about how their son or daughter won’t move back to the United States until they’ve exhausted their year of parental leave.

Sarah Prager, who spoke at Wednesday’s press conference, said she and her partner are considering leaving the country in order to have a baby. She said they want to spend the first three months of their baby’s life at home with the baby, but will only be able to afford to take a month if they stay in Connecticut.

Larger companies are more likely to offer their employees partial or paid disability and maternity leave.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been non-committal about the subject in the past. He’s said the state needs to determine whether it would be “a competitive advantage or a competitive disadvantage.”

Bailey said last year’s bill recommended employees would have to contribute less than 1 percent of their salaries to the fund. She estimated that 50,000 of about 1.5 million Connecticut residents would take leave, annually.