Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Jason Rojas and Sen. John Fonfara co-chair the Finance Committee meeting (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Two bills that would require every employee in the state to contribute to a paid Family Medical Leave Trust Fund cleared the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee Monday by a vote of 27-21.

Freshman Democratic Reps. Jill Barry, D-Glastonbury, and Kerry Wood, D-Rocky Hill, joined Republicans on the committee in voting against the bill.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 1: An Act Concerning Paid Family And Medical Leave

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Barry said if the vote Monday was strictly on the policy she would support it, but she’s tasked with assessing the fiscal impact of the bills.

“I am a numbers girl and at the moment the numbers are not adding up for me,” Barry said.

Small employers were the main concern for most lawmakers who voted against the bill, and even those who voted in favor.

Under the legislation, all employees in Connecticut would contribute 0.5 percent of their weekly paycheck to a state-run trust fund, which would pay them during their approved leave. It would apply to companies with as few as a single employee.

The current federal Family and Medical Leave law, which protects employees but doesn’t offer them any pay while they’re on leave, only applies to employers with more than 50 employees.

Rep. Joe Polletta, R-Watertown, said that 100% wage replacement over a 12-week period is not a sustainable program.

He pointed out that even Gov. Ned Lamont’s bill is not that generous.

The governor’s bill, SB 881, says an employee could earn 90% of their typical earnings up to $600 per week for anyone making around $15 an hour and 67 percent up to $900 for workers earning more than that.

The other two pieces of legislation passed Monday by the Finance Committee offer a wage replacement level of 100 percent, up to a maximum of $1,000, which is much higher than programs in other states.

Polletta said his family runs a small electrical business and if his company has three electricians out on 12 weeks of leave “who know the customers, know the job, know the daily routine,” then “we are in a tough predicament. We either have to hire a temp worker or pick up the work ourselves and for a lot of small businesses that’s unsustainable.”

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 HB 5003: An Act Implementing A Paid Family Medical Leave Program

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Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, said the average number of weeks employees currently take is around seven weeks.

He said he doesn’t believe solvency of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Trust Fund is an issue.

Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, who runs a mid-sized company with 250 employees, said he worries about the impact it will have on small employers. And while it’s probably true some people abuse the benefit he already offers, he’s not going to live his life assuming that’s the majority of his employees.

“I certainly have major reservations, but I think that we need to move this forward,” Needleman said.

Rep. Jason Doucette, D-Manchester, said many small businesses have concerns about the legislation in his district, but he thinks the bill should move forward knowing that the final product will be negotiated.

Doucette said he believes the governor’s bill will be closer to the final product than the two bills approved Monday by the Finance Committee.

He said employers should be allowed to provide their own plan. The two bills approved by the committee require all employees to participate and don’t give businesses the option of providing their own benefit.

The bills were already approved by the Labor and Public Employees Committee.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates that the legislation will cover an estimated 103,600 employers with approximately 1,456,000 employees.

The bills authorize $20 million in general obligation bonds for start-up costs for the first two years of the program.

One bill will go to the House and the other is headed for the Senate. Both bills have the exact same language.