Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and Senate President Martin Looney (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Bolstered by an election that put them firmly in control of the Senate and House, Democrats Tuesday came out in support of 10 bills, including a $15 minimum wage and paid family medical leave.

While insisting their pro-worker initiatives would also be friendly toward businesses, the Democrats at a press conference said voters made their feelings clear last November.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said there’s an implication that the only reason Democrats expanded their majority in the General Assembly was because of backlash against Republican Donald Trump. However, Ritter said Democrats won 21 House districts where Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski got more votes than Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont.

“That says to me the message we had resonated across the state,” Ritter said.

Part of that message including increasing the minimum wage, which currently stands at $10.10 an hour.

“Raising the minimum wage is long overdue in the State of Connecticut,” the Democrats from both the House and Senate said in a joint statement.

They were less clear about how long it would take Connecticut to get there.

“Numerous large corporations and other states have already taken steps to increase their minimum wage so workers can earn a fair, adequate and ‘livable’ wage,” the statement went on. “We must do all we reasonably can to help workers support themselves and their families.”

Numerous bills have been introduced to increase the minimum wage, including this one in the Senate.

On paid family medical leave, the Democrats said they haven’t finished doing all the work on their proposal, but it will be a priority.

“Paid family and medical leave is necessary and beneficial to our modern workforce,” the Democrats statement said. “Connecticut families should be able to care for loved ones or themselves in their time of need. No one should have to face the prospect of economic ruin when presented with serious family needs such as caring for a newborn, a spouse, or their parents.”

“The proposals outlined here will build upon the critical policy work we have accomplished in past years and will respond to the priorities of the people of our state,” Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said.

Under questioning from reporters about the paid family leave initiative, Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, who has been a champion for the legislation in the past, said that the intent is to have the employees, not employers, pay for the coverage. Employees would contribute 0.5 percent of their paycheck to a trust fund managed by the Department of Labor.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Senate President Martin Looney (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

Everyone would get up to 12 weeks of paid leave and the maximum amount any person would receive is $1,000 per week. It would take a year to amass the money the program would need, so people wouldn’t be able to benefit from the program until there was enough money in the trust fund to make payments.

“This year we’re getting this done,” Porter said, referring to the minimum wage and paid family medical leave initiatives. “It’s time to get this done.” She also referred to both the initiatives as “just the beginning” of what could and should be done to make the state more worker friendly.

Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, who also operates a small bagel business, said small businesses such as the one she operates support state-backed family medical leave legislation because she “can’t afford” to offer a similar program to her 30 workers.

Anticipating criticism from some, Porter tried to beat that back by stating that higher wages and better medical benefits would “put money back into the economy and communities.”

And — yes — there was immediate criticism from Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven.

“Here we go again,” Fasano said. “Democrats admitted today that ‘details are still being worked out’ on these proposals. That’s simply reckless and deceptive.”

“Some of these policies may have merit, but we need to see the details,” Fasano continued. “Once those details are made known, I’m interested in knowing how they can be enacted in a way which doesn’t hurt Connecticut businesses. And how much do they cost? And how would they impact people’s paychecks?”

Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, said Democrats are essentially proposing a payroll tax by levying 0.5 percent of everyone’s paycheck.

“While it’s admirable, it’s just another tax on middle-class and hardworking families,” Perillo said.

He said Republicans would rather offer a tax credit to companies already offering paid leave to their employees.

Carlos Moreno of the Working Families Party said that’s not a solution that benefits everyone.

It just rewards large companies that are already offering their employees leave because they can afford it, Moreno said.

“It doesn’t do anything for the small businesses that can’t afford to provide this benefit,” Moreno said.

Moreno said the tax credit proposal also doesn’t provide any opportunity for oversight.

He said the Democratic proposal also expands the definition of family.

“We need to be very careful not to pass policies which could obliterate our current economic momentum,” Fasano added. “We are in a fragile situation now. Every economist is predicting a recession is right around the corner.”

Besides minimum wage hikes and paid family medical leave, the Democrats said their other priorities include legislation on affordable and accessible prescription drugs, job training and workforce legislation, skill training for students, environmental and energy efficient legislation, small business initiatives, and resolutions to change the constitution and allow early voting.

What Democrats didn’t include on their joint agenda was a proposal to force school districts to regionalize, and a proposal that would lengthen the amount of time a victim of sexual assault had to come forward with their complaint. Currently the statute of limitations for sex crimes in Connecticut is five years.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the legislative agenda proposed Tuesday was not “all encompassing.”

“There are things that are important to both caucuses that are working their way through the committee level,” Aresimowicz said.

Democrats in the House and Senate introduce their priorities for the 2019 session.

Posted by on Monday, February 4, 2019

Rep. Jason Perillo responds to Democratic proposals

Posted by on Monday, February 4, 2019