Four-Year Effort to Pass Paid Sick Leave Highlights Dysfunctional Legislative Process


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The Connecticut State Senate passed the paid sick leave bill earlier this week, after a lengthy Republican filibuster. Moving forward, no worker will have to choose between caring for their health or that of a loved one and going without pay. By 2027, when the updated law covers all businesses, hundreds of thousands of workers will have the peace of mind that a cold or the flu won’t stop them from paying rent.

I have written enough in recent weeks explaining the benefits of this law. Today, I’d like to look both at the legislative process that led to its approval and to why, despite this major victory, our political system is not doing enough to serve the needs of working families.

Passing the Paid Sick Leave Act was the result of the four-year effort of hundreds of activists, volunteers, and leaders in our community working to convince our legislators to pass this law. We spoke with dozens of legislators, both in Hartford and in their districts, mobilized activists to call their representatives and senators, canvassed several districts of so-called moderate Democrats across the state, and talked with countless community leaders, encouraging them to get involved. And legislative leadership in both chambers prioritized the bill, working with advocates and their caucuses to help push it across the finish line during the closing days of session.

We succeeded, and as a result, paid sick leave will really improve the lives of many people in the state. There is, however, one important detail: it should not be this hard to pass a bill that polls well above 85% nationwide (and 70% amongst Republicans), especially in a place like Connecticut.

Truth is, Connecticut has a fairly dismal track record in passing legislation advancing workers’ rights in recent years. The Paid Sick Leave Act  is more of an exception rather than the rule. The General Assembly has failed to pass much significant legislation during this session, a pattern that has been repeating for too long in our state.

This shouldn’t be the case. Connecticut is a deeply blue state. The Democratic Party holds overwhelming majorities in both chambers, as well as the governor’s office. This is a place, at least on paper, full of progressive voters. It would be expected, then, that the party which has unified control of all government institutions is able and willing to act decisively to pass many transformative laws to solve the state’s problems, from increasing affordable housing to taking on greedy slumlords and more. Unfortunately, however, the well-organized moderate wing of the Democratic party has an oversized influence within the Democratic caucus on many important issues. 

There are two main dynamics at play. An unwillingness to end Republican-led filibusters means Democrats constantly cede control of the agenda to the Republican minority, deferring to their demands on what bills can be brought to the floor – particularly when the interests of the Republicans align with some moderate Democrats. It matters little that many of these obstacles are entirely self imposed, and allowing endless debates is a choice, not an inescapable rule.

Second, the well-organized moderate caucus within the Democratic party has succeeded in having an out-sized say in many legislative matters. Despite enjoying overwhelming legislative majorities in both chambers, a well-organized, small, and vocal caucus of corporate Democrats in the House has proven capable to block or weaken legislation on many important issues.

And we do face many, many urgent issues to solve. There is a broad consensus, both in the Capitol and across the state, that housing costs have become a critical problem in our state. High rents are suffocating both families and pushing businesses away, as they cannot attract new workers to Connecticut. Despite many urgent calls to action and furious debates, the legislature has failed to act for years on this issue. Legislators have also done little to improve access to health insurance (in fact, they’ve cut some benefits), nor to provide adequate resources to our public K-12 schools, improve public transportation, or fund essential services. Critical investments, meanwhile, are left out of the budget thanks to austerity constraints.

We can and should do more. Political inaction is not the result of arcane legislative rules and constitutional provisions. Budget cuts are not the consequence of lack of funds or revenue.

The good news is, we can fix this. The paid sick days win shows that we can push the agenda forward. It requires work, and organizing, and a serious, focused effort to build political and governing power. Inaction will not fix our housing, healthcare, or transportation issues. Building a broad progressive majority focused on finding pragmatic, realistic, effective solutions to the problems at hand will.