By Bill Cummings
HARTFORD – A key legislative committee on Thursday passed a bill mandating paid family and medical leave for all state workers, but the legislation faces more revision and an uphill battle.
“I have concerns, but will vote to get it out of committee,” said state Rep. Louis Esposito, D-West Haven. “I think we have to work on this.”
The General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee moved the bill forward on a mostly partisan vote based on the strength of its Democratic majority.
If passed by the full Legislature, Connecticut would join Rhode Island, New Jersey and California in mandating paid leave for family issues and medical problems. The state now requires employers to grant only unpaid leave.
The legislation establishes up to 12 weeks of paid leave for pregnancy, non-work related illness or to care for family member. An employee would have to make at least $9,300 a year and the law would apply to any business with two or more employees.
A worker would receive 100 percent of their weekly pay, up to $1,000 a week.
The leave is funded through payroll deductions from each employee, although how much is not clear. The version passed Thursday states a “percentage” would be deducted but does not specify how much.
An earlier version set the percentage at a half percent deduction from each paycheck. Opponents have said the amount would have to be far more.
Employees who already have an equivalent or better paid leave plan would be exempt from the legislation. If their plan is less than the state mandate, the new law would apply.
Carolyn Treiss, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, praised the bill.
“This is a great day for the women and families of Connecticut,” Treiss said. “Paid leave benefits everyone, and we will all need it at some point in our lives, whether we are new parents, or for our own illness or that of someone we love.”
But state Rep. Richard Smith, R-New Fairfield, raised objections to the legislation and said he cannot support the bill as written. Because the employee deduction is not established, he said it could grow as high as 10 percent.
“I can’t support it as it is, but I do appreciate the effort,” Smith said. “I think it has a way to go.”
State Sen. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, and committee co-chairman, said actuaries will ultimately set the employee deduction based on the amount needed to make the plan solvent.
Tercyak added that initially, as the benefit is established, some state money would be used to fund the leave but stressed that money would be repaid as the trust fund set up to receive payroll deductions becomes stable.
“This will be based on what it takes to have the plan be solvent,” Tercyak said of the employee deduction. “This is to be paid for by employees only.”
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said the bill simply offers employees much needed paid leave.
“This is an insurance plan for employee taking time off,” Osten said. “It allows the employee to get paid so they can face the ultimate embarrassment of losing their ability to exist.”
Business leaders have come out against the bill, saying it adds another mandate in a state where the cost of operating is already among the highest in the nation.
In contrast, more than 100 of the state’s most influential women leaders on Thursday sent a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders urging passage of the bill.