HARTFORD, CT — Passage of a Paid Family and Medical Leave bill seemed inevitable this year, but Wednesday was the 99th day of the legislative session and none of the three bills have made it through either the House or the Senate.
Advocates are concerned they may have lost some momentum. It’s also been hard adjusting to a new administration that embraces the concept of Paid Family and Medical Leave, but doesn’t necessarily agree with its own party on how to get there.
On Wednesday the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave delivered a letter signed by more than 5,000 people to Gov. Ned Lamont’s office as well as to House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and Senate President Martin Looney.
Winnie supports paid leave because she didn’t think it was fair that her friend was unable to go to the clinic for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia treatments with her mother because her mother had to work.
Winnie’s mom, Liz Halla-Mattingly, testified about her own struggles balancing work, a new baby, and her mother’s cancer diagnosis.
“The struggle I faced trying to do it all — be a new mom, a good employee, and a caregiver — but feeling like I was failing at all three. Those were the hardest months of my life,” Halla-Mattingly said in her testimony about the legislation.
Jessica Ciparelli, a member of the coalition, said she and her three siblings did their best to spend as much time as they could with their mother before she died.
“We made it work, each in a different way,” Ciparelli said. “But not everyone has the options we had available. Not everyone has understanding employers.”
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said Wednesday that they are negotiating a final version of the bill with Lamont’s administration and his goal is to get it “up on the board” for a vote in the next few weeks.
The devil is in the details.
There’s debate over whether it should be an appointed board that makes decisions about who runs the call center or other parts of the contract related to administering the program. Some believe it should all be done in-house by the Department of Labor.
Should a board created by the bill make more of those decisions about how the program is managed? Or should it be spelled out as part of the legislation?
“Personally, I really don’t care who is administering it,” Aresimowicz said. “I don’t care. Public, private, let’s find out what works. Let’s get the product out to the people who need it.”
The two bills proposed by the legislature differ from the bill proposed by Lamont.
Under all the bills, 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.
How much employees would receive while on leave differs.
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.
That’s opened the door to opponents who don’t believe the trust fund will remain solvent because everyone will take their full 12 weeks of paid leave every year.
Ritter said there’s a notion that there will be fraud and abuse and people will just take leave for 12 weeks because they know they’re going to get paid.
“People go on leave now,” Ritter said.
“What we’re trying to do is create a process for people who are really sick or have loved ones who are really sick to care for them and not choose between a paycheck and an ability to do that,” Ritter said.
Catherine Bailey, deputy director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, said people are taking leave now because life happens — people get pregnant, people get cancer, and people die. She said this legislation just offers everyone protection from losing their jobs and a paycheck.