Paid family leave veto overide showdown expected Wednesday

Published: Feb. 4, 2020 at 5:01 PM EST
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A veto showdown is expected at the Statehouse Wednesday as Democrats rally to find the votes to override Governor Phil Scott's veto of a paid family leave bill.

The bill passed the Senate last month by a vote of 20 to 9, surpassing the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. However, it passed the House by a vote of only 89 to 58, falling 11 votes short.

Some of the House votes against the bill were actually cast by Progressives who don't think the bill goes far enough. Progressive leaders say they will all be voting for the override. That means just a couple more votes that Democratic leaders need to sway to get the bill passed.

Business owners, teacher union officials and other advocates were putting on the pressure Tuesday in the hours leading up to the override vote in the House.

"I stand here today to urge the House to override the governor's veto of paid family leave," said Don Tinney with Vermont-NEA, the union representing the state's teachers.

The compromise bill allows parents who just had a baby to get paid leave benefits for up to 12 weeks. People caring for seriously ill family members would be eligible for eight-weeks of benefits. The program would be run through a private insurance company and be funded by a $29 million payroll tax.

But Governor Phil Scott has said the payroll tax is a non-starter. He has a voluntary paid family leave alternative. "I believe it's the most efficient effective way to do this without a $29 million dollar payroll tax," Scott said.

As lawmakers prepare for the first major face-off with the governor this session, political analysts say the votes could also have a big impact on the upcoming elections.

"Legislative battles are never really between Democrats and Republicans," said former journalist and longtime Vermont political observer Chris Graff.

He says super majorities can sometimes be a problem because lawmakers can diverge from party discipline.

Graff says that in the end, it's about the fundamental difference between the House and Senate and not necessarily the major parties. "Different priorities, different styles, different personalities. In the end, even if you have super majorities in the same party in the House and Senate, they will end having conflict," he said.

Graff also says with elections on the horizon this year, how lawmakers vote Wednesday can be used as ammunition in the upcoming election. Though the governor hasn't officially announced his re-election bid, he's already started fundraising. "So, even if the bill passes, he will have taken his stand and that's what's important for him. He has to have that clear image as that person who will fight against any new taxes," Graff said.

But Graff says it's unclear what the political impact would be on some of the Democrats and Progressives seeking higher office in campaign 2020. "By the time we get to the November election or the August primaries, that's faded and people are focused on whatever image those candidates are talking about and their individual records," he said.

The House is scheduled to hold the override Wednesday afternoon. If they reach the two-thirds majority and the Senate concurs, the bill will become law.

But this may not be the last showdown. The governor is also considering vetoing another Democratic priority -- the minimum wage increase.