Vt. lawmakers to tee up universal paid family leave bill
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Advocates for universal paid family and sick leave in Vermont say they plan to push Vermont lawmakers to pass a plan when they return to the Statehouse next month. It comes as Governor Phil Scott this week tried to get a jump on lawmakers by rolling out his own voluntary plan.
At a summit in Montpelier Thursday, top House Democrats and advocates made their case for universally-funded paid family leave.
“Paid leave improves worker retention, it saves employers money through reduced turnover costs,” said Jordan Giaconia with the group Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
A new session is weeks away and Giaconia and other advocates are seeking to act on the longstanding Democratic priority. Supporters say universal paid leave will bring gender, racial, and socioeconomic equity to the workforce, a need that was highlighted during the pandemic.
“When schools and child care closed, women reduced their work hours by four to five times as much as men did. Parents were affected by their kids not having somewhere to go, but it was women who were the ones that took time off of work,” said Cary Brown with the Vermont Commission on Women.
Democrats’ plan is still in the works, but it would likely provide up to 12 weeks of leave covering new parents, people caring for sick loved ones, and survivors of sexual and domestic assault. The proposal would cover full-time, part-time, and seasonal workers by replacing lost wages with what lawmakers deem a living wage. There have been no decisions yet on a funding mechanism. The plan vetoed by the governor three years ago would have assessed a payroll tax on all Vermont workers and employers.
“It’s time for Vermont to put people over profits. There’s no cost, no benefit, no revenue without the human beings that are part of this economy and part of this state,” said Kiah Morris with the group Rights and Democracy.
The governor’s program is rolled out in several steps and offers six weeks of leave with up to 60% wage replacement. Scott contends that a voluntary plan does not lean on taxpayers and offers other incentives. “A unique opportunity for businesses to set themselves apart from others this week, hopefully allowing them to attract more of the workers they desperately need,” he said.
While the Democrats’ proposal still needs to make it to the starting line, the governor’s plan will make 8,000 state employees eligible for paid leave benefits starting next summer.
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