Minimum wage, family leave and job training on legislative agenda
In the legislative session that begins Wednesday, the General Assembly will look for ways to close a projected 10.10 an hour that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, remains the same in 2019. But minimum wage increased last week from 12 in Massachusetts and from 10.50 in Rhode Island.
It is partially with an eye on neighboring states that many legislators here are looking to increase Connecticut’s minimum wage this legislative session. Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, talked about his passion for the issue at a town hall meeting Thursday evening in Groton, and it’s a priority for the Progressive Caucus.
East Haven Rep. James Albis, co-chair of the caucus, said they put forward a bill that would get to a 15 minimum wage.
Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, acknowledges of Democrats, “They have a large majority, so anything they want ultimately will pass.” But he would like to see minimum wage increases tied to an index.
Paid family leave
Albis said that the paid family leave bill being submitted is similar to bills that passed out of the Labor and Finance committees last year but stalled on the floor of the House and Senate. The bill introduced last session would have required all private-sector employees to contribute a small portion of their paychecks to a fund to pay for the program, which would have allowed for 12 weeks of paid leave, he said.
Albis noted that new legislators Rep. Kara Rochelle, D-Derby, and Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, campaigned with paid family leave at the core of their platforms.
The Women & Girls Committee also has recommended a paid family leave program.
Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said of marijuana legalization, “I think it’ll certainly be a key issue as we enter into this session. Certainly the landscape from when we considered this bill a year ago has changed.”
Forbes named Connecticut as one of nine states most likely to legalize marijuana this year.
Albis wants to start with looking specifically at marijuana-only dispensaries, and he wants to make sure a portion of revenue goes to substance abuse prevention and a campaign to reduce distracted driving and driving under the influence.
The Connecticut Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health is holding a breakfast roundtable on Jan. 15 about marijuana and opioid use in the workplace.
“With the legalization of marijuana in neighboring states, and possibly in Connecticut, the business environment at worksites can potentially become more complex,” organizer John Able said in a recent news release.
In his campaign, Lamont expressed support for marijuana legalization.
Just days after being elected governor, Lamont paid a visit to New London, the first stop on an economic development tour. While here, he met with leadership at Electric Boat, which is on a growth spurt due to an uptick in submarine production that continues to receive congressional support.
Lamont has vowed to prioritize job training programs, and has talked about better pairing educational institutions and employers to train people for job opportunities in the state. Southeastern Connecticut has done this successfully with the Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative, which provides training in a variety of trade and design disciplines for work at EB and other manufacturers. There’s been talk of emulating the program in other parts of the state.
There’s likely to be proposals in the General Assembly to increase funding for job training programs. State Sen. Cathy Osten, a Democrat from Sprague, said she intends to introduce legislation to increase the number of spots at the technical high schools. Osten said she doesn’t envision a big spending package for EB like the 13.5 million annually. The legislature cut that in half last year.
“We can’t compete with Rhode Island and Massachusetts if we can’t build up our ports and support maritime industries. We’ll work to build bipartisan support to restore our lost funding,” said Scott Bates, chairman of the port authority’s board.
State bond funding is the main way the port authority pays for infrastructure projects such as upgrades to State Pier in New London, which the state owns, and dredging around the state. Projects at the state’s small to mid-size harbors are paid for out of a separate 400,000 in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 for the port authority. Bates said the port authority would be interested in talking to the Lamont administration about decreasing that, as long as the bond authorization is restored.
Through ownership of the State Pier, the port authority gets 6.75 percent of the assessable revenue generated from New London’s deepwater port. That’s amounted to about $500,000 in recent years. Bates has said that he hopes in five years the port authority no longer will need annual funding from the state.