Vt. Democrats fail to override governor's veto of paid family leave

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) A victory for the governor at the Vermont Statehouse on Wednesday as his veto of paid family leave survived an override by a single vote.

Democrats could not muster the supermajority they needed to get one of their top priorities passed into law. Democrats needed 100 votes in the House. They only got 99.

The measure to override the governor's veto on the paid family leave bill failed 99-51, a big setback for Democrats who have made this one of their main priorities.

The vote was mostly along party lines, with Republicans voting against the override and Democrats and Progressives voting for it.

But there were a couple of independent and Democratic lawmakers who actually ended up voting against the override, citing the $29 million payroll tax on Vermonters that the governor also opposes.

"It is impossible for me to move forward with instituting a payroll tax for a new benefit when we have this existing issue we have not solved over here. To me, that seems like we are stacking up issues," said Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-West Dover.

Several Progressives originally opposed the bill saying it didn't go far enough. But in the final vote, all the Progressives ended up supporting the veto override.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson says Democrats will continue to push for progressive agenda items and that voters will have to keep Wednesday's vote in mind when they head to the polls this year.

"But really understanding what is the future we want to build and what is my rep doing to get us there," said Johnson, D-South Hero.

The governor said he couldn't support the family and medical leave plan because it included a $29 million payroll tax. It would have guaranteed up to 12 weeks of paid parental or bonding leave and up to eight weeks of paid family care leave.

Republican leaders worked overtime to muster the votes to keep Gov. Phil Scott's veto, with one lawmaker coming in right after surgery.

"I just did not see how we could tax 45,000 people and them not being able to access the program that we were putting forth," said Rep. Pattie McCoy, R-House Minority Leader.

In the meantime, the governor is moving ahead with a voluntary plan where employers negotiate directly with the insurance companies to provide the benefit.

The administration will provide a list of companies that want to work with the state sometime next week.

At the same time, though, we're still waiting on a decision from the governor on the Democrats' minimum wage bill. He has until Monday night to make a decision on whether to sign it or veto it and he has said that he still has concerns.