Paid sick leave? Electric cars? What Conn. lawmakers think can be done

March 26, 2024 4:32 PM • Last updated: March 26, 2024 4:32 PM

Despite strong opposition from Republicans and small businesses, House Speaker Matt Ritter predicted Monday that the Legislature will pass one of the most controversial measures of the session.

“I think we’re going to have paid sick days this year,” Ritter told reporters Monday. “I do.”

With just six weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers are looking ahead to the Capitol to determine which bills will be passed before the short session ends on May 8.

One of the top priorities for Democrats is an expansion of the state law on paid sick days as they seek to expand the law to all employers with one or more employees. Currently, the law covers private sector employers with more than 50 employees.

If approved, the law would take effect Oct. 1, but would be retroactive to a year earlier so employees can start accruing paid sick time.

Ritter, a fourteen-year veteran of the Capitol, understands that the road ahead will not be easy when it comes to paid sick days.

“We think we’ve created a House version — that’s why there’s a House version — which we think addresses some of the concerns we heard last year,” Ritter said. “We hope. We’ll see. It’s going to be a tight spot. I think we can get there. … Some of our members who were ‘no’ have been willing to listen and work on it. So we’ll see .”

The state’s largest business lobbying group, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, is opposed to the three measures offered by House Democrats, Senate Democrats and Gov. Ned Lamont. The three bills have the same objectives, with relatively minor differences in implementation. Opponents argue that mandatory paid sick leave would hurt small businesses and startups, especially life science companies trying to establish themselves.

All three bills recently passed the Democratic-controlled Labor Committee on a party-line vote of 8-4. The bills require every worker to have at least 40 hours of paid sick leave annually.

“While these bills are very well intentioned, a one-size-fits-all policy is not a solution,” CBIA’s Ashley Zane said in recent testimony. “The state should not treat ‘mom and pop’ stores on Main Street the same as multi-billion dollar corporations. Connecticut already ranks as the eighth highest cost of doing business in the country, and these bills will only add to our reputation as a bad business state.”

Zane added: “Many small businesses are already offering paid time off to recruit and, more importantly, retain employees. Companies that cannot offer paid leave are at a disadvantage. Just because a state statute doesn’t require them to offer paid sick leave doesn’t mean companies don’t offer it. This piece of legislation will have significant unintended consequences for our most vulnerable businesses, who are already working to improve benefits and recover from a pandemic.”

Connecticut has fallen behind, Democrats say, after passing its first paid sick day law in 2011 under Malloy, the state’s first Democratic governor in two decades. Since then, several states have passed the broader law that Connecticut is now pursuing, including Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Minnesota, Arizona and Washington.

House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora of North Haven said the state already has a paid program funded by employee payroll deductions.

“Paid sick leave is a big issue because I don’t understand why our state is looking for another program when we have paid family and medical leave that employees are paying for,” Candelora told reporters Monday. “Half a percent comes from their paychecks. It has a surplus of $700 million. A third of applications are rejected. Rather than moving to a new program, I think we should look at how we can make that program work for employees who are already contributing to it.”

Study electric car

Another controversial issue this year was whether the state should impose mandates regarding electric cars. Lawmakers have fought over whether the state should adopt California emissions standards favored by some Democrats or the less stringent federal standards favored by many Republicans.

Instead, the General Assembly will likely approve the creation of a 40-member commission to make recommendations.

Lawmakers, Ritter said, simply have too many unanswered questions that make it difficult to make final decisions on electric cars.

“Massachusetts has spent a lot of time and thought about it,” Ritter told reporters. “What about the city of Hartford and the people living in apartment buildings? How are you going to handle that? Where do the charging stations go? You have to show people actual charging stations. What happens if you only have two? [stations] in an apartment complex of 10 people? How does that work? How quickly can you do it?”

He added: “This has unfortunately received very little support from city legislators and some moderate legislators. … We will get there. We have to plan for it.”

According to him, the problems still need to be worked out.

“The questions that have been asked over the last six months are very good questions,” Ritter said. “What happens to our electricity grid when everyone plugs in? I don’t know if we’re ready for it. People can fire the commission all they want, but if people think they’re going to wake up in January and roll out regulations through regulatory review, that’s a bad assumption. It’s not going to happen. There are too many questions that remain unanswered. So I think working outside the session is important.”

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, a Democrat from East Hartford, said progress often takes time.

“I think the goals to tackle climate change have always been much more ambitious than what happens on the ground,” Rojas said. “A lot of work is happening on the ground. DOT has plans for charging stations. DEEP has a plan for charging stations. But we’re just coming out of a period where there were supply chain issues. So whatever plan was developed four years ago was influenced by the supply chain, and we have to adapt that, but the objectives are still there.”

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