Session Focused on Workforce Development Measures
The 2023 legislative session focused on a series of workforce development measures amid the labor shortage’s growing threat to Connecticut’s economy.
Lawmakers adopted expanded definitions of workforce development, ranging from clarity on who can work to student loan programs and developing specific plans for high-need industries.
Workforce remained a top priority for CBIA and was a feature of the organization’s Transform Connecticut policy solutions.
Connecticut’s labor force—the number of employed plus those actively looking for work—contracted an alarming 2.4% in the last 12 months.
At the same time, Connecticut has 104,000 job openings—49% more than in February 2020, just before the pandemic upended the economy.
Bills that passed this session that which align with CBIA’s Transform Connecticut solutions included:
- HB 6585: Requires various stakeholders to study how the state can use the H1-B cap exempt visa process to expand the state’s workforce population.
- Sections 183, 184 of the state budget: Require the Office of Higher Education, within available appropriations, to establish a pilot program to reimburse eligible people for up to $5,000 annually (for a total of up to $20,000) for their student loan payments and make payments deductible from a person’s state adjusted gross income.
The bipartisan state budget included funding for various workforce development programs including:
- $3.5 million in fiscal 2024 for dual credit enrollment programs from federal pandemic relief funds
- $5 million in fiscal 2024 for education workforce development from federal pandemic relief funds
- $15 million for youth employment programs
- $1 million for apprenticeship programs
- $2.4 million for the Office of Workforce Strategy over two years
- $2.4 million per year for the Transportation to Work program
The budget also moved OWS, originally intended as a standalone agency, into the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Other workforce measures adopted by the legislature this year included:
- SB 1090: Allows 15-year-olds to work as youth camp staff members or lifeguards, subject to existing restrictions on certain other jobs. The bill requires employers of youth camp staff members or lifeguards to obtain a certificate documenting the employee’s age (i.e., “working papers”), as existing law requires for employers of 15-year-olds working at retail establishments and 14-year olds working at golf courses. It requires employers to keep the certificate on file and make it available to the Department of Labor for inspection.
- Section 137 of the budget: Opens the community college debt-free program to returning students. Current law only allows first-time students to qualify for the program. This provision was also included in SB 8, passed the Senate but was not acted on by the House.
- Section 176 of the budget: Establishes an Office of the Student Loan Ombudsman, designed to review and resolve student loan borrower complaints, help borrowers understand their rights and responsibilities, compiling and analyzing borrower complaint data, and provide information to the public, agencies, legislators, and others about problems and concerns.
- HB 6354: Requires the Connecticut Clean Energy Council to develop a plan surrounding Green Jobs in conjunction with the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut Technical Education and Career System, and DOL.
- HB 5441: Creates an 11-member task force to develop a plan to establish clinical placements at state facilities for nursing students at public and private higher education institutions; requires the insurance commissioner to promote the development and growth of employment opportunities within the state’s insurance industry; extends eligibility to the Connecticut Higher Education Supplemental Loan Authority’s Alliance District Teacher Loan Subsidy Program to paraeducators and counselors; requires CHESLA to establish a police officer loan subsidy program; and expands a CHESLA loan subsidy program for specified healthcare professionals to also include emergency services professionals.
The legislature’s Education Committee also spent time addressing the education sector’s workforce needs.
The committee focused on increasing and diversifying teacher supply through a number of bills including:
- SB 1: Section 8 requires the State Department of Education to establish an educator apprenticeship initiative beginning in fiscal 2024 and requires SDE to seek certification from DOL for leveraging federal funding. Section 11 and 18 establish the Aspiring Educators Diversity Scholarship Program (replacing the minority teacher candidate scholarship program) and require at least four existing vacant positions within SDE to be reclassified for the purpose of administering the program. Under the bill, eligible students receive scholarships of up to $10,000 per year of enrollment in teacher preparation programs. The bill also requires SDE to develop scholarship repayment criteria for recipients who are not employed as teachers in-state following graduation.
Unfortunately, the legislature failed to approve HB 6879, which established a commission to review and make recommendations concerning educator preparation programs and certification.
The bill helped clarify and made it easier for individuals to enter the teaching profession.
CBIA worked in collaboration with affiliate ReadyCT and will advocate for this bill next session if the department does not make progress streamlining the certification process.
Section 12 of the bill requires the state’s chief workforce officer to develop a plan for the Human Services Career Pipeline program that includes a strategy to increase the number of state residents pursuing careers in human services.
Section 16 cuts, from 25 to 15, the number of new FTEs that a business must create and maintain to be eligible for the JobsCT tax rebate program if at least one of these FTEs is an individual with intellectual disability.
It also makes these FTEs eligible for a 50% rebate and increases, from $10 million to $15 million, the cap on the aggregate rebate amount that may be awarded in a fiscal year for discretionary FTEs.
Section 63 creates a workforce development grant program within available appropriations, for nonprofit organizations with a workforce of at least 10% people with intellectual disabilities.
Occupational Licensing Reform
Occupational license reform remains a top priority for the business community.
However, the legislature failed to act on this issue, despite two bills reforming licensing regulations that passed the committee stage of the session:
- SB 951: Requires DECD and the Department of Public Health to study the feasibility of entering into license reciprocity agreements or compacts with surrounding states for healthcare providers.
- SB 135: Reduces the fee for certain occupational licenses under the purview of Department of Consumer Protection to $100.
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