Vermont Senate approves paid family leave compromise

Published: Jan. 17, 2020 at 6:11 PM EST
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The Vermont Senate Friday gave the green light to a paid family leave bill, advancing one of the most disputed bills from the last legislative session.

It was one of the biggest topics from last session that had Democrats split. But this week lawmakers were able to come up with a compromise that passed the senate by a vote of 20 to 9.

Under the bill, parents of new babies would get paid leave benefits for up to 12 weeks. People caring for seriously ill loved ones would be eligible for eight weeks of benefits. It all depends on how much the workers make, but the average Vermonter will receive 70 percent of their pay during the leave. The plan also lets employers opt out of the state's paid family leave program, but only if they can offer a stronger plan of their own.

Lawmakers say the bill addresses a critical part of Vermont's aging demographic problem. "The real heart of support for our elderly population is family. Family steps up and we don't do enough to support the families that are care-giving. This is one small step we can do for them to allow them to take off work and get paid," said Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden County.

The program would be run through a private insurance company and funded by a .20% payroll tax. That's 20 cents on every $100 earned.

A statement made by the Vermont Family and Medical Leave Insurance Coalition regarding the H.107 Conference Committee report says, “While we appreciate the efforts in both the House and Senate to reach an agreement on legislation creating a paid family and medical leave insurance program, the FaMLI Coalition is unable to support H.107 in its current form. This is because the H.107 conference committee report privatizes the paid leave program – making it less affordable, transparent and cost-effective and fails to include a personal medical leave guarantee. This bill does not provide equitable access to all working Vermonters – especially those who need paid leave the most. H. 107, in its current form will leave thousands of Vermonters behind and put the viability of the program at risk.”

The bill now moves on to the House, and under a deal worked out between the two chambers it will come to a vote without any changes. If it passes there, then it heads to Governor Phil Scott's desk.

It's unclear how Scott feels about this specific version of the plan, but he's been generally opposed to a payroll tax and he did veto a similar bill in 2018.

Friday's vote was more than the two-thirds needed to override a potential veto. It's unclear if they will reach that margin in the House, where there is concern some Progressives might not approve of the watered down version of the bill. Supporters stress that the compromise is better than no meaningful plan at all.