POLITICS

Connecticut Passes Most Generous Paid Family Leave Law In The U.S.

The state will be the seventh to offer the benefit to new parents.
Connecticut governor Ned Lamont (D) plans to sign the paid family leave bill "ASAP."
Connecticut governor Ned Lamont (D) plans to sign the paid family leave bill "ASAP."

Connecticut is poised to become the seventh state in the U.S. to provide paid time off to new parents and caregivers, adding further fuel to paid family leave as an issue in the 2020 elections.

Democratic governor Ned Lamont plans to sign the bill “ASAP,” according to a spokeswoman. When he does, Connecticut will join New York and New Jersey in offering the benefit, effectively making the New York metropolitan area a paid family leave zone for new parents.

The state house passed the bill Friday, 79-69, with all but eight Democrats voting in favor. The Democratically controlled Senate passed the bill more than a week ago.

If signed, then starting in 2021, workers in Connecticut would get 12 weeks off to care for a new baby, a seriously ill family member or loved one or to deal with their own illness. The benefit will be funded by a payroll tax on workers of 0.5 percent. Benefits will cover 95 percent of low-wage workers’ pay up to $900 a week, the most generous level of wage replacement in the country. New York currently offers 55 percent wage replacement, increasing to 66 percent when its policy is fully phased in. The state also has one of the most inclusive definitions of who counts as a family member or loved one — siblings, grandparents, or any other blood relation or person who is the “equivalent of a family member,” according to the bill.

“We all agreed on the need to pass this landmark support for working families so they don’t have to choose between the job they need and the family they love, or their own health,” Lamont said in a statement Friday.

The new law adds fuel to the growing momentum behind paid family leave. Since 2016, three other states and Washington, D.C., have passed paid leave. And another bill is moving forward in Oregon as well.

While paid leave is often framed as a Democratic issue, the policy has passed with bipartisan support in Washington state and Massachusetts, said Vicki Shabo, a paid leave expert at New America, a liberal think tank. And polling has shown that both Democrats and Republicans support some kind of policy to give new parents paid time off.

Advocates are hoping that all this movement in the states will add pressure at the federal level, where there’s both enthusiasm on the Democratic side and a growing acknowledgement from Republicans that something needs to give for working parents in the U.S., one of only a handful of countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee time off to new mothers and the only developed nation without paid maternity leave.

“Anytime a state passes a new paid family and medical leave policy it illustrates the momentum that’s behind the issue and further puts pressure on legislators and people seeking to become the next president to elevate the issue,” said  Shabo.

All of the Democrats in contention for the 2020 presidential nomination who serve in Congress are backing the Family Act, legislation sponsored by candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would fund paid time off for parents and caregivers through a small payroll tax.

Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are leading a bipartisan working group to do something — it’s unclear what — about paid leave. 

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Mike Lee (Utah) have been pushing policies that would use Americans’ Social Security money to fund leave ― omitting caregivers entirely from their proposals. 

That idea has been widely criticized.

CONVERSATIONS