Family and medical leave, minimum wage lead Connecticut Democratic priorities in 2019

February 4, 2019 GMT

HARTFORD — Passing paid family and medical leave legislation tops the list of Connecticut Democrats’ list of priorities for 2019.

It is one of the issues on which House and Senate Democrats have “early consensus,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven. Also on the list is raising the minimum wage, making prescription drugs more affordable, improving job development and training, allowing early voting and passing a “green new deal” to fund renewable energy and sustainability efforts.

“Those are the values that we fought for on the campaign trail,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. “We are keeping our promises. We want to fight hard to grow this economy and make sure we grow the state of Connecticut in a way that brings people to this state.”

Legalizing recreational marijuana was not on the list of priorities, which Democrats unveiled Monday afternoon, because some Democrats oppose the idea, Looney said.

Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, as well as a Democratic governor, means these consensus items are likely to pass, if Democrats can agree on the specifics. They will spend the next few months negotiating and debating the exact language of each bill.

“Some of these policies may have merit, but we need to see the details,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, in a written statement. “Once those details are made known, I’m interested in knowing how they can be enacted in a way which doesn’t hurt Connecticut businesses. And how much do they cost? And how would they impact people’s paychecks?”

State Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, who chairs the Labor and Public Employees Committee, said Democrats are currently considering a family and medical leave plan in which all workers in the state automatically contribute 0.5 percent of their paycheck to a family and medical leave fund administered by the state Department of Labor.

Workers could then access the fund to receive pay for up to 12 weeks while on leave to care for newborn babies, recover from a serious illness, or care for a sick family member, for example. Employees on leave would receive 100 percent of their weekly earnings, up to $1,000 per week.

New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey have passed legislation for public family and medical leave programs, as well as California, Washington state and the District of Columbia.

“I think we can look at what’s been done and learn from it and make our bill even stronger and better for working families,” said Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, who chairs the Labor Committee with Porter, in an interview Thursday. “I think it will be one of those flagship bills that really publicizes that this is a great place to live and work and raise your family.”

Looney observed that while he hopes Connecticut’s bill is a “model,” it may not be the strongest of all states because their proposal would not require employer contributions into the fund. He called that a “concession.”

Republican Rep. Jason Perillo of Shelton, who attended the news conference Monday, called paid family and medical leave bill a “payroll tax.”

“Everybody is going to have to take a chunk out of their paycheck to pay into this proposal,” said Perillo. “What Republicans proposed last year would actually be a tax credit for those employers who want to implement paid family and medical leave. It would be optional, but they would get a benefit.”

Democrats also hope that Connecticut can catch up to other New England states by raising the minimum wage. Looney said he wants to see the state’s minimum wage, now $10.10 per hour, rise to $11.25 in Jan. 2020, $12.50 in 2021, $13.75 in 2022 and $15 in 2023. Democrats still need to decide whether and how they would then index the minimum wage, Looney added.

“We need to be very careful not to pass policies which could obliterate our current economic momentum,” Fasano responded. “An onslaught of economic wrecking ball legislation would put Connecticut into freefall.”

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson