Working Families Win Some, Lose Some In 2018 Legislative Session

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While the Trump administration seeks to dismantle any and all things Obamacare, Connecticut legislators, in the waning days of this year’s legislative session, passed a bill that protects important health benefits that are part of the 2010 reform package.

Legislators also passed a law that seeks to reduce the times police officers arrest both the victim and the aggressor on domestic violence calls, or so-called “dual arrests.” And they, in an attempt to close the gender wage gap, passed a bill that prevents potential employers from asking job applicants about salary history.

About that last one, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said, “This inequity is perpetuated by the practice of asking for salary history during the hiring process, which can disproportionately ensure that women who were underpaid at their first job continue to be underpaid throughout their careers, creating a cycle of poverty and causing real harm to families.”

But let’s give an honest grade for what happened—and what didn’t happen—in the session that ended at midnight May 9.

Connecticut legislators’ effort was a solid C for what they could do for families—or, if we’re feeling generous, maybe a C+. Too many pieces of legislations that could have made a big difference in a small state were left on the table, died in committee, or never got traction.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was legislators’ failure to pass a paid family leave bill. They also couldn’t raise the state’s minimum wage, which stands at $10.10.

“There was no increase to minimum wage, but we raised the amount before taxes on inheritances take effect,” said Lori J. Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. “So people making $10,000 a year got left behind, and people who inherit millions of dollars got a break.”

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t offer paid family leave, though employers can offer it at their discretion. Some states, such as New YorkNew Jersey, and Rhode Island, have gone ahead with the initiative, but not Connecticut. In those states, leaves are administered through disability insurance programs, and funded by employee payroll deductions. While Connecticut is losing its millennials, paid family leave would have been a nice incentive to stay and work in the state. But no.

Khadija Gurnah

“Connecticut MomsRising members were disappointed that our legislature failed to pass a critical paid family and medical leave bill,” said Khadija Gurnah, MomsRising campaign director.

“While we’re disappointed, we won’t give up,” Gurnah said. “We’ll keep working to ensure that all Connecticut families have access to paid family and medical leave.”

Paid family leave would ease a big burden on strapped families trying to live in expensive Connecticut, said Kate Farrar, executive director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), which pushed hard for the bill.

“Every day women are forced to choose between their paycheck and caring for a sick child or relative or battling their own illness,” Farrar said. “Every day women face harassment in their workplaces. Economic security for women in our state is critical to the well-being of our workforce and prosperity of our state’s economy.”

“I think that this is not a stellar grade this session,” said Karen Jarmoc, president and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “I think that there is absolutely more work to do.”

Jarmoc’s organization celebrated the passage of a law that eliminates the state’s 30-year-old “dual arrest” policy, where police can arrest both the victim and the perpetrator in domestic violence incidences. According to a 2017 ProPublica report, since the passage of the law, Connecticut’s rate of dual arrests had risen to about 18 percent, compared to a national average of 7.3 percent. (The rate was even higher, ProPublica said, in towns such as Windsor, where “dual arrests accounted for 35 percent of intimate partner arrests in 2015.” Ansonia’s rate was even higher at 37 percent.)

Jarmoc’s organization also was able to push through an increase in the marriage surcharge. People who apply for marriage licenses will pay $35 as opposed to $20, said Liza Andrews, the coalition’s director of public policy and communications. The extra money will generate roughly $646,000 for 27 domestic violence agencies around the state, Andrews said.

Lori J. Pelletier

And those Affordable Care Act benefits the legislators codified are vital and include emergency services, maternity and newborn health care, mental health and substance use services, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, chronic disease management, contraceptives, and pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

“I don’t think they failed,” Pelletier said. “But I don’t think they achieved what they could have. They could have tried harder.”

Susan Campbell is a distinguished lecturer at the University of New Haven. She can be reached at slcampbell417@gmail.com.