Vt. Democrats primed for 2nd attempt at paid family and medical leave

(WCAX)
Published: Dec. 27, 2019 at 5:36 PM EST
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Vermont lawmakers will return to Montpelier early next month for the second-half of the legislative biennium and one of their top priorities is another attempt at passing a paid family and medical leave bill.

With the session just days away, Democratic leaders are making another go at rolling out a mandatory paid family and medical leave plan. The Senate passed their version of the bill in May that included 12 weeks of leave per parent or eight weeks of family care funded by a 2 percent payroll tax for the cost of $31 Million. This version will be under consideration by the House in January.

Lawmakers contend that having a universal leave program would attract young families to the state and also take care of our aging demographic. "So that people don't have to choose between their family and their job -- that we have policies in place which help people balance both is the best way we can build a stronger society and a Vermont that works for everyone," said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero.

Governor Phil Scott has said paid family and medical leave should be optional for employers. He says it would put a strain on small business owners and low income Vermonters who can't afford the extra burden. In his voluntary plan, the employer negotiates directly with the insurance company to get their premiums in place.

"There's no need to have technology to collect payroll, there's no need to get technlogy to insure that benefits are managed appropriately. All of that will be managed by the private insurance company, so that certainly brings cost-savings and efficiencies and allows the program to be up and running," said Vermont Finance Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

The Governor has generally opposed initiatives that add to the cost of doing business, but says offering paid leave could help companies vying for new employees be more competitive. "Insurance companies, financial services firms that we regulate, they already provide that service because it's part of their competitive element to attract employees to the company and to the state as well," Pieciak said.

The Vermont State Employees Association, which supports a universal plan, recently ratified a contract with the Scott administration that includes paid family leave for some 8,000 thousand employees. VSEA's Steve Howard says this is a step in the right direction for the state. "We're very happy to have this as a backup but we'll be working very hard to make sure that all Vermont families have the benefit of a family leave policy," he said.

Senate President Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County, says every Vermonter, not just state employees, should have the benefit. "If the Governor and the executive branch believe that this is a benefit that is so desireable that taxpayers should fund it for the 8,000 state employees and their families, then all families in the state should be eligible for the same kind of benefit," he said.

If lawmakers' universal family leave plan goes through the House and Senate there's always a possibility Governor Scott could veto the plan. Ashe says they're going to try to muster the highest number of votes for a veto override if needed.