Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, co-chairs the Labor Committee (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Legislative Democrats, who currently hold a slim majority in the General Assembly, are looking to muscle through some of their legislative initiatives before the 2018 election.

Their “Democratic Values Agenda” includes Paid Family Medical Leave, a “living wage” that might start at $11 an hour and go up a dollar each year until it reaches $15 an hour, pay equity, and “tuition-free community college.”

A healthy portion of the agenda is focused on women in what is being called “The Year of the Woman.”

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, pointed out that it’s not strange that his caucus would choose to focus on women’s issues because seven of the 18 Democrats in the chamber are women, whereas only two of the 18 Republicans are women.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said things have changed over the past year.

“People are standing up for families and are standing up for the right to earn a living wage,” Bye said at a state Capitol press conference.

She said Paid Family Medical Leave, which has been raised the past four sessions, is critical for economic security and health.

Previous versions of the proposal would have little impact on the state budget because the cost of the program would be funded by employee contributions to a fund.

Last year’s legislation would require employers with more than two employees to contribute a portion of their weekly pay to a fund. Employees would then be allowed to take up to 12 weeks a year of paid leave at 100 percent of their salary capped at $1,000 per week to take care of a family member or themselves. Legislative analysts estimate that 1,587,400 employees would be covered by the proposal.

According to a recent poll of 500 likely voters, those surveyed were 66 percent more likely to vote for a candidate who voted in favor of Paid Family Medical Leave and 11 percent were less likely.

Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Working Families Party, said politicians from all sides are realizing “paid leave is a bad issue to be wrong on.”

She said even lawmakers who were “disinterested in the issue before” are beginning to show an interest in the topic.

“We’re beyond the ‘if’ and we’re onto the ‘how’,” Farrell said.

She said there’s a sense that “it’s just bad politics to be wrong on this issue.”

Andrew Markowski, the head of the National Federation of Independent Business in Connecticut, was quick to oppose an increase in the minimum wage and Paid Family Medical Leave.

“Paid family medical leave not only raises labor costs, but there are additional expenses for hiring temps and training other workers,” Markowski said. “Productivity can suffer. Right now many small businesses have a very flexible relationship with their employees, providing benefits and time off when necessary. That flexibility would disappear.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

As far as the minimum wage is concerned, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said they saw a lot of businesses do the right thing after Congress passed the changes to federal tax law.

He said Cigna and Travelers increased their in-house minimum wages using some of the proceeds from the federal tax overhaul. Cigna increased their minimum wage to $16 an hour and Travelers increased its minimum to $15 an hour for any of its employees making less.

Looney said they need to index the minimum wage once it gets to $15 an hour.

Aresimowicz said there will be votes held on all of these issues regardless of whether they make it through the chamber.

“Gone are the days when you’re going to be able to travel the state and say ‘I’m with you’ and then hide behind some procedural vote that it never hit the floor,” he said.

He said not all of the members of the Democratic caucus have come forward to say they are on board with all the ideas in the package. He said they still have to work through the committee process.

“I’m assuming there are Republican votes for these issues. Maybe I’m naive, but why would you be against pay equity?” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford said. “Why would you be against raising the minimum wage a dollar an hour?”

A watered-down pay equity bill cleared the House last year 139-9, but stalled in the Senate.

Looney said so many agenda items that have been raised in previous years were shelved last year for a debate on a labor agreement and a state budget deficit that stretched until the end of October.

Looney said they’re confident that the ideas presented Tuesday will gain momentum as they move through the committee process.

None of the proposals sought to address Connecticut’s fiscal woes. The agenda didn’t include any new revenue ideas to help fund some of the proposals included in it and it didn’t make any promises about funding social service programs.

“How are Democrats seriously suggesting the state take on new expenses when we are struggling to provide even core services?” Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “This is nothing more than political rhetoric preparing for the 2018 elections.”

Republican legislative leaders are planning to announce their agenda for the 2018 session on Thursday afternoon.

Senate and House Democrats unveil their 2018 agenda.

Posted by on Tuesday, February 6, 2018