Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Sen. Julie Kushner and Rep. Robyn Porter, co-chair the Labor and Public Employees Committee Thursday (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT —Three significant bills were passed out of committee Thursday: a minimum wage increase, limits on what employers can say to employees in the workplace, and the creation of a public health insurance option for small businesses.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee voted in favor of all three, mostly along party lines.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 2: An Act Increasing The Minimum Fair Wage

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Two bills would raise the minimum wage from its current $10.10 to $15 an hour by January 2022. Another, supported by Gov. Ned Lamont, would increase the minimum wage to $15 — but his bill would take a year longer to get to that goal, hitting the $15 mark in January 2023.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 HB 7191: An Act Increasing The Minimum Wage.

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All five Republican members of the committee objected to increasing the minimum wage, while all nine Democratic lawmakers supported it.

State Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield, said the business owners in his community aren’t worried about increasing the minimum wage for the 30-year-old single mom whose working a minimum wage job. He said they don’t want to increase the wage to support teenagers.

“If you have to pay the student $15 an hour and you have to pay the mom $15 an hour there’s only so much money at the end of the day,” Smith said.

Rep. Joe Polletta, R-Watertown, said he’s concerned about applying future increases on the Consumer Price Index once the state reaches $15 an hour.

“I fear that with the CPI this minimum wage could get up to $20 an hour,” Polletta said.

He said he also has concerns about hurting the employees they’re actually trying to help.

An estimated 330,000 Connecticut workers earn the minimum wage.

Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said they are trying to give people more disposable income so the state can see more tax revenue. And in an era when the price of everything from rent to groceries continues to go up while the minimum wage stays at $10.10 an hour, “how are we supposed to keep up?”

She said the minimum wage is not a livable wage, but minimum wage service jobs are what have proliferated since the 2008 recession.

The committee also approved a captive audience bill that would limit what employers can say to employees in the workplace.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 64: An Act Concerning Captive Audience Meetings

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Former Attorney General George Jepsen tossed cold water on a similar “captive audience” bill in 2011 following an 11-hour debate in the House. Years later, Jepsen issued a formal opinion on April 26, 2018, that said similar legislation was pre-empted by federal law and warned lawmakers about passing it.

Legislators have declined to ask Attorney General William Tong for his opinion on the matter.

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, asked why they wouldn’t ask for an opinion.

Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said she believes the language in the bill is legal.

“We believe this language will stand up to pre-emption laws,” Kushner said.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, disagreed.

“To ignore the Attorney General’s definitive judgment is an abdication of our responsibility as legislators to uphold the law,” Fasano said. “Attorney General Jepsen’s opinion provides a clear analysis of the law that leaves no room for question. Any opinion to the contrary would certainly raise eyebrows.”

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 1004: An Act Concerning Public Insurance Options For Small Business Employees

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All five Republicans voted against the measure while all nine Democrats voted in favor of it.

There was a little more bipartisan support for expanding Connecticut’s state employee health insurance plan to include small businesses.

A bill that would allow businesses to join the Connecticut Partnership Plan offered by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo was approved 11-3.

Two similar bills that would expand the state health insurance pool to certain populations were held by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee and likely will appear on the agenda for their next meeting.