HARTFORD, CT — Despite Gov. Ned Lamont’s veto threat, the state Senate passed a bill that moves Connecticut one step closer to Paid Family and Medical Leave.
The bill passed 21-15, with Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, joining Republicans in voting against the measure after more than six hours of debate.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, was unable to say Wednesday whether they would raise the bill for debate in the House.
He said he has to meet with Rep. Robyn Porter,D-New Haven, and Lamont.
“It may be an issue we have to caucus again,” Aresimowicz added. “I’ve always said getting the bill to pass both chambers and getting the governor’s signature is very important. I’m not willing to wait on FMLA for the residents of the state of Connecticut, but we have to ensure we’re doing it in the right way.”
Lamont maintained his opposition to the version of the bill the Senate passed following the vote.
“We need to make sure this program is solvent, efficiently administered and nimble enough to adapt and adjust as needed, particularly in its first few, crucial years,” Lamont said. “I don’t believe the legislation, as currently drafted, will allow for that.”
Democratic Senators were less interested Wednesday in delving into the details of how the program would be administered and more interested in the benefits the program would offer every employee in the state of Connecticut.
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, spoke about how important it was for him to be at the bedside of his dying mother and he didn’t necessarily have leave during that time, but he made time to be with her. More recently he had twins and when his son was in the neonatal unit he wouldn’t eat unless Winfield was present.
Winfield said he would have taken whatever job he needed to take to be at the hospital because there’s nothing more a parent wants than to get their infant home and out of the hospital.
“I know we’re going to talk about public versus private, I know we’re going to talk about all of that,” Winfield said. “But what I know is that these stories connect all of us. These are the things that bill is really about.”
He said the bill will help people so they’re not walking around trying to figure out what they can do to see their daughter, son, mother, or father.
Republicans — who offered their own alternative plan — questioned the sustainability of the program and whether it should be putting a quasi-public agency in charge of the money it will be taking from everyone’s paycheck. They did not question the merits of the policy, which is currently offered by some employers but not all of them.
Under the Democratic bill, every employee in the state of Connecticut would be asked to contribute 0.5 percent of their earnings to the fund.
Within two years employees will be able to access some of that money for 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, family member with a serious health condition, their own medical condition, exigency arising out of a family member being on active duty, or serving as an organ or bone marrow donor.
The wage replacement for employees on leave would not exceed 60 times the minimum wage, which would be $780 a week based on a $13 an hour wage, $840 a week on a $14 an hour wage, and $900 on a $15 wage. Wage replacement would be 95% for those making the minimum wage.
Self-employed employees and sole-proprietors have the ability to opt-in to the program.
California, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington state all have Paid Family and Medical Leave Programs.
One of Lamont’s concerns was the composition of the board for the the quasi-public agency and its ability to bid the administrative functions to a private company.
Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said they haven’t ruled out using private industry to administer some parts of the program through the quasi-public agency created through the legislation.
“It’s been very well thought out,” Kushner said.
She said it contemplates the need to keep some work within the Department of Labor and the ability to contract for services with the private sector.
“This bill will provide working families with time off to take care of their kids with wage replacement, so that they don’t have to pick between their family members and a paycheck,” Kushner said before debate on the bill began.
Kushner said this bill will allow small employers compete because they’re not going to have to pay the wage replacement out of their pockets “but they will have the comfort of knowing that someone who is taking care of a sick family member or they themselves are sick have the ability to call on this insurance program to get some wage replacement.”
Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, who owns a restaurant, said that means he would have to hire a temporary worker and that’s going to come out of his pocket and what happens when the employee returns from leave.
“I’m going to be paying unemployment no matter what,” Formica said.
He said he wants to defend his right to be able to provide benefits to his employees without government interference.
“I believe this should be market conditions,” Formica said.
The Republican plan, which was offered as an amendment, would be a voluntary program that residents could purchase.
Democrats doubted that would it would help a minimum wage worker working two jobs, but it’s unclear because the the Republican plan didn’t have a price tag and would require actuarial analysis.
As far as the Democratic plan is concerned, “I really truly believe we have a governor who is going to sign this bill,” Kushner said.
The Democratic plan has been reviewed by actuaries, but in the case of a shortfall the quasi-public agency in charge of the program is required to reduce the benefit by the minimum amount necessary to ensure solvency.
“This bill gives me great hope,” Kushner said.