HARTFORD, CT — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has signaled he’s open to signing legislation that would create a 12-week paid family leave and 20-week paid medical leave program.
It was part of a grand bargain, which included an increase in the minimum wage to $15-an-hour and an annual sales tax holiday. The Massachusetts legislation seeks to avoid putting all three issues on the ballot in November.
The passage of the legislation comes after Connecticut’s General Assembly failed for the fourth year in a row to pass a paid family medical leave program.
“Once this is signed into law we will be surrounded by states that have paid family leave,” Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Working Families Party, said Thursday.
She said Connecticut will become less competitive because workers will be attracted to the other states to put down roots and raise a family.
“If you had the choice of living in a state where you have financial security and a state that doesn’t, that’s an easy choice to make,” Farrell said.
New York, Rhode Island, and New Jersey have some type of paid family medical leave programs. Adding Massachusetts to the list will make Connecticut an island, Farrell said.
“It is long past time that Connecticut politicians stopped playing politics with people’s lives. Legislators in Massachusetts understood that paid leave is good for employees, families, business, and their economy,” Farrell added. “And they knew they risked falling behind if they didn’t pass a program of their own this year.”
The legislation Connecticut has been unable to pass would 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 leave. The leave could last up to 12 weeks and the pay would be capped at up to $1,000 per week.
Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor, clergy and liberal organizing groups, said it will withdraw its ballot question if the bill is signed into law.
Connecticut does not have ballot initiatives and referendum, so it would be up to the General Assembly to decide.
All 151 seats in the House and 36 seats in the Senate are up for re-election this year.
If they were able to pass a paid family medical leave program, then they would need a governor who was willing to sign it.
The two Democratic candidates for governor seemed to be open to the idea, but two of the five Republican candidates who responded to our request for comment were lukewarm.
On the Republican side, Tim Herbst, the former Trumbull first selectman, said he would look to the private sector to come up with a plan.
“There are several innovative proposals for paid family leave that would give young families and mothers greater flexibility and security, including some akin to a 401(k)-style retirement plan where the employee contributes a portion of their paycheck to a dedicated family leave account and the employer contributes a matching amount,” Herbst said. “I support clearing the way for businesses to pursue and implement these innovative solutions that will also make them more attractive to potential hires.”
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton felt it might be premature to be talking about this type of program.
“In order to participate in any kind of paid leave program, people first need to have a job,” Boughton said. “There will be plenty of time to debate the merits of paid family leave, but right now we must focus on getting our economy and state finances back on a pro-growth track.”
On the Democratic side, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said he would support a paid family medical leave program, but the devil is in the details.
“The Massachusetts law recently enacted is an interesting concept, and we are exploring a proposal that would be an employee-employer match, where the employer has to offer a paid leave benefit, but the burden on funding such a benefit must also come from participation of the employee. We are still working on the details of it, which may include a tax incentive for businesses for every employee taking advantage of a paid family medical leave benefit,” Ganim said.
Ned Lamont, the endorsed Democratic candidate, said he’s supportive of the idea.
“The Massachusetts model is a fair, collaborative agreement between employers and workers, an approach that Connecticut lawmakers could model for legislation here,” Lamont said. “A livable wage and paid family and medical leave are not just the right thing to do, they are policies that make economic sense and make it easier to attract and retain a workforce. Workers who don’t have to miss spending first days with a child, final days with a parent and paying a mortgage are more productive and more likely to stay here.”
Republicans Steve Obsitnik, David Stemerman and Bob Stefanowski did not respond to requests for comment.
Polls show paid family medical leave is a popular concept.
Over 83 percent of Connecticut residents polled in 2016 by the AARP want paid leave. Another 2017 study revealed that 77 percent of small business owners in Connecticut favor establishing a paid family and medical leave program.