As activists await the state Senate’s deliberation on a bill mandating paid family leave for all Connecticut employees, Mayor Toni Harp has thrown her support behind the initiative.
The Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave, a coalition of more than 60 organizations and businesses advocating for statewide paid family and medical leave, announced its proposal and recommendations for the bill last Wednesday. The Connecticut General Assembly raised Senate Bill 221 — which, in alignment with the coalition’s recommendations, mandates a self-funded system of paid family leave — on Feb. 22. The Labor and Public Employees Committee of the General Assembly is currently leading the bill, which will likely reach the Senate floor in the coming months. The bill presented this year, which is similar to one proposed but not passed in 2015, stipulates up to 12 weeks of leave for all Connecticut workers dealing with personal illness or caring for seriously ill family members or newborn children, as well as members of the military or individuals undergoing treatment to donate bone marrow.
“It seems self-evident that a compassionate, effective social safety net would include provisions for working men and women suddenly faced with emergency or extraordinary family circumstances,” Harp said in a statement to the News. “This measure would provide some peace of mind for working people when they likely would need it most.”
Catherine Bailey, the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave chair and Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund policy director, said that under the bill, workers who take time off for any of the specified reasons will receive 100 percent wage replacement for up to 12 weeks, with a weekly compensation cap of $1,000.
“This year we have an excellent chance at progress because [paid family leave] is not such a new concept anymore,” Bailey said, adding that her organization has received some encouraging responses from a handful of legislators, including state Sen. Gary Winfield, who represents New Haven and West Haven.
Bailey said last year’s bill was never voted upon by the state House of Representatives because a number of other important bills emerged during the final weeks of the General Assembly’s 2015 session. She noted that the state’s budget — a significant topic of debate last year — was not completed until the session reached its final few minutes. This precluded other proposals from receiving sufficient debate time. But Bailey said the Labor Committee and Appropriations Committee voted favorably on last year’s bill.
Lindsay Farrell, the state director of Working Families — an independent political organization that advocates for workers’ rights statewide — emphasized the importance of implementing paid family leave in Connecticut as a way to attract families seeking job security.
Farrell, a New Haven resident, noted that all Connecticut workers would be paying the same percentage from their paychecks — under 1 percent of earnings — to finance the program. She said many small business owners and employees in New Haven and beyond support the program, which offers peace of mind in return for a small payroll deduction.
“In a place like Connecticut where we have a very aging population, I think we could really reinvigorate our state and economy by attracting younger families who are thinking they’d like to have a family one day to come to Connecticut, where they know they have job security,” Farrell said.
Farrell added that, according to a Hartford Business Journal report, 38 percent of millennial workers said they would be willing to move “not just to a different state, but to a different country” for a paid family leave program such as the one being proposed in Connecticut.
Only three states — Rhode Island, New Jersey and California — currently offer some program addressing paid family or medical leave.