Connecticut may become 4th state to pass paid family and medical leave act

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HARTFORD--On Thursday, more than 100 influential women from across the state signed a letter in support of a paid family and medical leave act, and it worked; the bill passed in the Labor and Public Employees Committee, meaning it will now move forward to be voted on by the entire Senate.

Currently, only three states--California, New Jersey and Rhode Island--mandate paid family and medical leave. While Connecticut was the first state in the nation to require paid sick leave for private sector employees, our state has still not passed family leave laws. Four other states offer paid sick leave, with Vermont signing its bill just yesterday.

Connecticut previously considered this legislation in the last legislative session, but it didn't get passed into law.

Oh Thursday, Catherine Bailey, the legal and public policy director for the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund, joined FOX 61's Audrey Kuchen to discuss the issue.

While many people immediately think this is solely a female issue--that it's all about maternity leave--it's not quite as simple as that.

"This issue impacts everyone throughout some time in their lives, they're going to need time off from work for one of those reasons," Bailey said, pointing out that leave is most commonly used for employees own illnesses. "But it does disproportionately impact women because they're more likely to be caregivers throughout their lifespan."

Many question how the act will be paid for; wondering if it would fall on the shoulders of the state or employers, but Bailey says it won't, and in fact it would financially help the state.

"There's a big misconception that this program would be on the backs of employers, but it would not. This is a self-funded, employee-paid system that we're proposing here," she said.

The letter sent to Gov. Malloy echoed her statements. It said, in part, "In order to attract and keep a skilled workforce in our state we must seek innovative policies to help Connecticut remain competitive. Paid family leave will not only attract workers and businesses into the state, but also create an environment that retains and supports the next generation."

So how would it work exactly?

"Employees would pay in a small contribution of their wages--less than 1/2 of a percent--into a pool, essentially, that they would be able to use when they have their own illness, need to take care of their family member, or for the birth or adoption of a new child."

Other states, including New York and Massachusetts, are considering paid leave bills as well. Bailey explained why the Northeast is seeing such a big push for the legislation.

"There's a national appetite for it. You know, we're seeing some large companies announcing  expanded parental leave policies. But then as you said in the Northeast it's also something there's a great demand for. And I think there are a lot of young people from all the colleges and universities. And for millennials, they're increasingly looking for jobs with these kinds of policies. So it will attract workers to Connecticut."

Here is the full letter that the CWEALF and its more than 100 signatories sent to the governor:

To Governor Malloy and the Connecticut Legislature:

With the 2016 Connecticut legislative session in full swing, over 100 women in leadership across the state are speaking with one voice: it’s time for paid family leave.

We represent clergy, businesses, unions, organizations, voters, and taxpayers across the state, and we stand with them in support of the creation of a comprehensive, statewide paid family and medical leave system. In order to attract and keep a skilled workforce in our state we must seek innovative policies to help Connecticut remain competitive. Paid family leave will not only attract workers and businesses into the state, but also create an environment that retains and supports the next generation.

In addition to supporting a healthy business climate, paid family leave is one of the most important economic and health issues for women across the United States and here in Connecticut. In over 70% of married couple families with children under the age of 18 in our state, both spouses are in the workforce. We know that women still remain the primary caretakers for both our parents and children. This means that without paid family leave, too many women are forced to leave their jobs to take care of new children, while others return to work too soon after having a baby and long before it is healthy and advisable to do so. It also means that any time someone else in the family – our spouse, our child, or our parent – gets sick and needs care, we will likely be the ones sacrificing our jobs and giving up our pay to be there to care for them.

We know that the current lack of paid leave is unsustainable; it drives women out of the workforce, contributes sorely to pay inequality, and decreases a woman’s lifetime earnings.

Connecticut has an opportunity to be a leader on this critical issue. Other states, including California, Rhode Island and New Jersey have successfully implemented paid family leave programs years ago, and states like New York, Massachusetts, and others are moving in the same direction. As one of the first states in the country to pass an unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) we should continue to lead the nation by becoming the next state to create a system of paid family and medical leave. As we look for policy solutions this year to breathe life into Connecticut’s economy, attract and retain younger families and workers, and bring stability to our families, paid family leave is a necessity.

Women are driving Connecticut’s economy forward – we, and the families we love, should not have to endure another year without paid family leave.