Fasano: Anything less than a constitutional amendment is a lockbox promise that can be broken [CT News Junkie]

July 1, 2015

CT News Junkie

The legislative language implementing the bulk of the two-year, $40.3 billion budget is 693 pages long and includes public policy that some thought died on June 3.

Among other things buried in the bill, section 422 includes a provision that sets in motion actions to establish a paid Family and Medical Leave Act in Connecticut. It asks the Labor Commissioner to hire a consultant to create a plan to get a program started by Oct. 1.

Earlier this year, a bill that would give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave from their jobs was never raised for a vote in either chamber. Under that bill, workers would contribute a percentage of their weekly earnings to a Family and Medical Leave Compensation Trust Fund. In turn, should employees need to take a medical leave to care for themselves or a family member, they would receive 100 percent of their average weekly earnings up to a maximum compensation of $1,000 per week.

“That’s legislation that got defeated, yet it’s still in here,” Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, said.

The Senate passed the bill 19-17, with Sens. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield and Joan Hartley of Waterbury, joining Republicans to vote against the measure. The House was expected to debate the bill next.

The bill debated Monday also resurrects legislation for a phased-in ban on microbeads — the tiny plastic particles used as abrasive or exfoliating agents in more than 100 different personal care products, including facial scrubs, soaps, cosmetics, and even toothpaste. They are made of plastic and end up in waterways.

The bill being debated Monday would ban the manufacturing of the personal care products with microbeads starting on Dec. 31, 2017, and bans the import and sale of products with microbeads by Dec. 31, 2018.

The bill also would require a minimum $15 an hour wage for anyone who works at the state Capitol or Legislative Office Building on a daily basis.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said that the measure assures people who work in the building will be paid a minimum of $15 per hour. She said the only group of people who contract with the state to work in the building who aren’t currently paid $15 an hour are the cafeteria workers. Those employees work for Lessings.

“We see them as valuable employees and we think that’s a fair working wage,” Bye said.

Kane said one of two things will happen: no one is going to want to contract with the state to provide services “or a turkey sandwich is going to cost $10.”

Kane also pointed out that the omnibus bill only creates a statutory “lock box” for the special transportation fund and not the constitutional amendment that was promised.

Bye said she would prefer a constitutional amendment, but the budget was the result of negotiation and she wouldn’t want to do anything to undermine those negotiations.

On June 9, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he would like to see both adopted during the special session, but the bill only includes the statutory lock box.

Republicans contend that a constitutional amendment is required to truly secure the transportation funds. Following Malloy’s announcement of his 30-year, $100-billion transportation vision, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano has said anything less than a constitutional amendment amounts to “a promise not to touch” the funds — a promise Republicans say Democrats are unable to keep.

The budget implementer also gives $9 million in employee raises to unionized nursing homes and $4 million to increase wages at non-union nursing homes. Only 30 percent of the state’s nursing homes are unionized.

Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities warned Sunday that the distribution of those funds may force them to file a lawsuit against the state.

Matthew Barrett, executive executive vice president of the association, said it was “blatantly unfair and discriminatory to the non-union workers who do the exact same work as the union workers with the same Connecticut taxpayer money.”

Kane said the entire 693-page package was sending Connecticut “down a dangerous path.” He said there’s legislation in the implementer bill that never passed either chamber and some which never received a public hearing.

“I think it’s more than an implementer bill. It is a Christmas Tree of sorts,” Kane said.

Senate President Martin Looney disagreed.

Looney said a lot of the bill concepts in the implementer were considered by either the House or the Senate during the session.

“We think they’re important initiatives,” Looney said.

He said the Democratic majority is “responsive to the needs of what people wanted to see passed.” He said they ran into time constraints toward the end of the regular legislative session on June 3.

“We were subject to Republican filibusters in the Senate that prevented other bills from being taken up,” Looney said.

The bill as promised did keep the computer and data processing tax at 1 percent and delayed unitary reporting for multi-state companies until Jan. 1, 2016. Those were two of the biggest complaints from some of the state’s large employers like GE, Aetna, and Travelers.

“On the big points, particularly with respect to removing or dissipating some of the taxes, I’m gratified that the consensus I referenced last week was true then and appears to be holding today,” Malloy said Monday afternoon before either chamber adopted the bill. “Until it’s done, it ain’t done.”