Senate Committee scales back paid family leave bill

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The Vermont Senate is looking to scale back a paid family leave program passed by the House. The changes come as lawmakers are nearing the end of the legislative session.

Key Senators say they had concerns about the cost of the original House proposal, so they sought a way reduce the cost from about $80 million to $27 million a year.

The Senate Economic Development, Housing and Military Affairs Committee reduced benefits to make it cheaper. A total of 12 weeks of bonding time per child would be available -- split among parents. And the panel cut paid leave for personal illness entirely. The Senate version reduces the payroll tax needed to pay for the program from .53 percent to .2 percent.

Committee Chair Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden County, says senators attempted to protect the core of the program while scaling it back. "We downsized the program a little bit but preserved its core. We have strong parental leave for mothers and fathers and taking care of their newborns and also for the sandwich generation, to take care of grandpa and grandma. That is the heart of it, and I think we're very strong in that regard," he said.

Gov. Phil Scott has called for any paid leave program to be voluntary, but the House and Senate versions remain mandatory. It's unclear so far whether the Senate version can earn enough votes in the House to overcome a veto.