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Lamont, Democrats reach deal on changes to family leave bill

HARTFORD — The General Assembly approved legislation that Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont will sign, creating a paid family medical leave system in Connecticut...

HARTFORD — The General Assembly approved legislation that Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont will sign, creating a paid family medical leave system in Connecticut.

The governor last week had threatened to veto the bill, which already cleared the Senate and had been debated late Friday night in the House of Representatives.

He had argued the proposal was too top heavy with bureaucracy and would possibly dissuade private insurers from participating. But by Friday afternoon, Lamont announced that he and legislative Democrats had reached a compromise that gives the governor more control over the program’s oversight board, slightly reduces its size and makes changes Lamont said will allow the estimated $400 million program to operate more nimbly.

The bill passed with the House approving the 79-69. Eight Democrats joined the Republicans in opposition.

The changes will be included in another bill that will need legislative approval as well. The General Assembly’s regular session adjourns at midnight on Wednesday.

“This is the right thing to do for our state, and I’m grateful that we were able to come to an agreement and do what is best for the people of Connecticut,” Lamont said in a written statement.

Republicans, the minority party in the General Assembly, were unimpressed with the eleventh-hour changes. Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven accused Lamont of caving in to the Democratic legislative leaders, who consider the paid family medical leave bill one of their top priorities for this year’s session.

“With yet another flip flop from Gov. Lamont, how can anyone take him at his word,” asked Fasano, who said the deal “does nothing to change the damaging problems” with the bill that Lamont had originally raised.

Under the bill, partial wage replacement benefits would be funded through a maximum 0.5% payroll tax on nearly all Connecticut employees. Eligible individuals would receive benefits while they take up to 12 weeks off from work to care for themselves during a serious illness, for a loved one or newborn over a 12-month-period.

The bill also provides an additional two weeks of coverage for serious health conditions during pregnancy and covers medical leave needed for organ or bone marrow donations.

Under the program, beginning Jan. 1, 2022, there would be sliding scale for benefits ranging from 56 % of an employee’s income for higher-paid workers to a maximum of 95 % of what a minimum wage employee would earn.

Democratic Rep. Robyn Porter of New Haven, a chief proponent of the bill, told a personal story about having to make the difficult financial decision to ultimately leave her job in order to take care of her baby daughter who was born premature.

“I know that this story that I’m telling is not unique,” she said. “There are many mothers out there that have to deal with the same or similar circumstances.”

Many of the House Republicans said they support the concept of paid family medical leave, but not the way the Democrats want to do it. They voiced concern about the impact the legislation will have on small business owners who will have accommodate workers who take the leave; whether the fund will remain solvent; whether it’s fair to make all workers pay for a benefit they might never use; and whether it makes sense to create a new bureaucracy.

Republican Rep. Brenda Kupchick of Fairfield said the legislation was crafted without input from Republicans or businesses, including advice from one her constituents, Cindi Bigelow, president and CEO of Bigelow Tea, who had personally reached out to Lamont.

“We’re losing jobs like a sieve in this state yet we’re passing a bill that hasn’t been worked on in a bipartisan manner,” she said. “I just don’t understand why this is going on.”