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A campaign has been trying to implement paid family leave since 2013. Will this be their year?

January 25, 2019

New London — The Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave has been trying for years to get a bill passed in the Connecticut General Assembly, and they’re hoping this will finally be their year.

The Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund has led the coalition of 75-plus organizations since 2013, and more than 100 small businesses around the state have shown their support.

The campaign also has a supporter in new Gov. Ned Lamont, and all neighboring states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey — have passed paid family medical leave programs. The other two states to pass programs are California and Washington.

“Regionally, Connecticut is kind of falling behind on this issue,” said Zack Campbell, media and outreach director of the progressive Working Families Party.

Three representatives of the campaign — Campbell, Gallo & Robinson lobbyist Brian Coughlin, and CWEALF policy associate Maddie Granato — sat down with The Day Editorial Board on Thursday afternoon.

Several bills to implement a paid family medical leave program have been introduced, but the topic still is in the early stages this session; draft language has not yet been added. Advocates hope that, unlike last year, a bill will be called to the House and Senate floor in 2019.

The campaign recommends a system in which 0.5 percent of weekly earnings are taken out of an employee’s paycheck and put into a program administered by the Department of Labor; Granato asserts the tax would sustain both benefits and staffing.

This would make Connecticut the first state with a plan that is entirely employee-funded, Coughlin said, whereas other states split the cost between employer and employee.

The program would allow leave for the birth or adoption of a child, foster care placement, a serious health condition, caregiving for an ill family member and domestic violence issues.

Both self-employed people and public workers covered by collective bargaining can opt in, but others cannot opt out.

Under the program, employees could take up to 12 weeks over the course of a year, in which they would receive 100 percent of their weekly earnings, up to $1,000 per week. The Department of Labor would have to authorize the payments.

The campaign estimates the program would necessitate an additional 40 employees in the Department of Labor to administer the program and review claims. Any appeals process to make sure nobody is abusing the system would come out of Department of Labor regulations.

Coughlin said the campaign wants to house the fund under the Office of the State Treasurer, as it is separate from the General Fund and therefore cannot be raided for other purposes.

Granato said the way the bill was written last year, benefits would be reduced if the fund ever became insolvent.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association has opposed the plan, partially on the argument that the math won’t work, leading the fund to “immediate insolvency” and therefore “no guarantee as to what actual paid benefits they (workers) will receive.”

CBIA said a better approach is passing legislation that provides a tax credit for employers that offer a paid family leave program.

Coughlin’s concern about this is that large companies that already provide such programs, giving them a competitive edge over small businesses to begin with, would get a tax cut without having to do anything differently.

Either way, representatives of the Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave are heartened to see that people on both sides of the aisle recognize the need to do more.

e.moser@theday.com

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