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Women Propose Paid FMLA, Increase in Minimum Wage, Free Community College

December 17, 2018

HARTFORD — The students at Grace Academy, an interfaith, tuition-free middle school for girls, had some tough questions for Lt. Governor.-elect Susan Bysiewicz and the 19-member transition subcommittee focused on women’s issues.

Vida Ntem-Mensah, 10, asked Bysiewicz where they plan to get the money to pay for all the initiatives the subcommittee proposed such as paid Family and Medical Leave, an increase in the minimum wage, free community college tuition, and an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates for midwives.

Bysiewicz admitted that “it’s getting very difficult to tax Connecticut residents any more and it’s getting very difficult to cut specific areas in the budget, so the reason that almost every idea here was focused on economic issues is all of these ideas are geared to growing our economy.”

She added that one of the “good parts about all these platform initiatives is that they don’t involve a lot of money.”

The proposal, which is based on a similar one made last year to create a paid family and medical leave program would require the state to spent $14 to $20 million in start-up costs, $4.5 million in 2020 and $9.7 million in 2021. The subcommittee believes the state would be able to recoup the costs once the program is up and running.

There would also be a $48 million price tag for free college tuition. It’s unclear how much an increase in the minimum wage would alter state labor contracts.

Norina Gakpey-Graham, 10, asked Bysiewicz if they plan on raising taxes.

“Our charge to the transition policy groups was to tell us all the best ideas to balance the budget without raising taxes,” Bysiewicz told Gakpey-Graham. “So that’s the bottomline. The second charge to every policy committee … tell us how we can grow our economy and how we can make Connecticut a better place to start and grow a business.”

She said both of those goals were achieved with the women’s policy report.

It’s likely with an expanded Democratic majority and with Gov.-elect Ned Lamont in the governor’s office that paid Family and Medical Leave and an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023 have a good chance of becoming law.

“I think very shortly you’re going to see that the new leadership here will bring us paid Family and Medical Leave, $15 an hour minimum wage, stronger campaign laws …” Bysiewicz said. “As a woman owned business and as the former Secretary of the State who used to have to publish reports showing how little progress was being made every two years on appointments to boards and commissions I can’t tell you how much we are looking forward to a fresh start for Connecticut.”

The women’s transition subcommittee made 18 recommendations to the new administration and told them they could achieve them within the first 100 days.

However, they need the help of the legislature for some of it.

Paid Family and Medical Leave, an increase in the minimum wage and changes to the recently passed pay equity bill will all require legislation, some of which has already been introduced.

Other proposals that will need legislation is one that asks the state to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assault. Connecticut currently has a five year statute of limitations and legislation died last year that would have changed that. There are 26 states with no statute of limitations for cases of rape.

Also the subcommittee would like to see legislation that says healthcare is a human right.

Sarah Croucher, executive director of NARAL Connecticut, said legislation in 2016 erased the language that previously existed.

Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Working Families Party, said there is something the executive branch can do without legislative approval.

She said the Connecticut labor commissioner could expand overtime pay by revising the department’s pay regulations to set a salary threshold of at least $55,234 by 2022. That means any employee making less than that amount would qualify for overtime.

“That would raise wages for 57,500 women and their families,” Farrell said.

And she believes it could be done without legislation.

Over the next three days various members of the Lamont administration and transition team will receive the reports from the 15 volunteer subcommittees at various locations across the state.

The subcommittees first met and started their work on Nov. 27 at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Lamont and Bysiewicz will be sworn in on Jan. 9, 2019.

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