HARTFORD, CT — One bill failed and one was saved during Tuesday’s meeting of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee when House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz promised one of his members that they would remove $20 million in bonding for start-up costs.
The bill that failed and the one that passed would do exactly the same thing — require all private sector employees to contribute 0.5 percent of their paycheck to a fund that they could then use if they needed to take Family Medical Leave. The leave could last up to 12 weeks and the pay would be capped at up to $1,000 per week.
There would be no option for anyone to opt out of the program and it would apply to every employee, regardless of what their employer already offered for family and medical leave. The bill also would not apply to any municipal or state employees.
The bills both included a fiscal note that used $20 million in bonding for the start-up costs.
The difference was Rep. Patricia Miller, D-Stamford.
Shortly after it was clear the Senate bill would fail, Aresimowicz came down to speak with Miller. Miller said she couldn’t support the bill because no one asked her to account for it as part of the bond package.
“As chair of the bonding committee, this bill was never brought before us,” Miller said. “Because we’re against the cap and because it wasn’t considered in our proposal that we brought to the full committee, I will be voting ‘no’.”
Miller later announced she would be voting in favor of the House bill based on a promise from the speaker that the language about the $20 million in bonding would be removed.
It’s unclear how the state would pay the startup costs without the bonding.
“Not unlike other bills that continue to be a work in progress, there are outstanding aspects to be determined before a final vote,” Aresimowicz said.
Currently, under the bill that was approved, the Department of Labor would incur at least $13.6 million in startup costs. The startup costs include approximately $4.7 million in salaries and fringe costs, $7.7 million for information technology, $776,700 for overhead and capital needs, and $340,000 for outreach and marketing.
The bill that was passed by the committee still included $20 million for bonding those startup costs, but it still needs to be approved by the House and Senate and eventually the governor.
“This is coming with a huge fiscal note,” Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said. “There’s no guarantee this particular scheme would work going forward.”
He said he would vote for it, if there was “bullet-proof evidence that it would pay for itself.”
Rep. Chris Davis, R-Ellington, said this bill is a huge tax on employees.
“It creates a new insurance program that requires a tax on every single private sector employee,” Davis said.
The bill expands FMLA law by reducing, from 75 to two, the minimum number of employees that makes an employer subject to FMLA beginning July 1, 2021.
In addition, the bill extends allowable leave under FMLA to caring for grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, all other blood relatives, or those with a “close association … the equivalent of a family member,” in addition to relatives covered under current law.
Catherine Bailey, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund deputy director and chair of the Campaign for Paid Family Leave, applauded passage of the House bill.
“Too many workers across our state face financial ruin when they need to take time off to care for an elderly or ill loved one, welcome a baby, or recover from a serious illness,” Bailey said. “Similar to successful programs in neighboring states Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York, a paid family and medical leave insurance program will boost Connecticut’s economy by improving worker retention, supporting small businesses, and attracting young employees to our state.”
She said 83 percent of voters support the program.
“We look forward to working with legislative leadership on sources of one-time reimbursed startup funding for the long-term sustainable success of the program,” Bailey added.