Paid Family Leave Bill Passes Senate But Future This Year Is Uncertain

May 15, 2019

By a vote of 19 to 10, the Vermont Senate has given preliminary approval to a scaled back Paid Family Leave bill, but the future of the bill this session remains very much in doubt.

The legislation provides 12 weeks of leave time for the birth of a child and six weeks to care for an ill family member.

Workers making up to about $27,000 dollars would get 90 percent of their wages. For workers making more it would also include 50 percent of wages above that level.

The money comes from a two tenths of one percent payroll tax that's shared between employees and employers.

Economic Development chairman Michael Sirotkin said he felt, in particular, many women would benefit from the bill.

"Even with their increased workforce participation however, women are given a majority of care giving responsibilities in the home,” said Sirotkin. “We also know that more and more adult children are now providing care for aging parents than ever before."     

"By creating a paid family leave program with measures that enable people with modest incomes to access the program, we can begin to level the playing field for Vermonters and families and workers."—Addison Sen. Ruth Hardy

Sen. Ruth Hardy from Addison County said the bill is particularly important for low and middle income wage earners because studies show only 7 percent have access to these benefits.

"By creating a paid family leave program with measures that enable people with modest incomes to access the program, we can begin to level the playing field for Vermonters and families and workers,” said Hardy. 

Sen. Randy Brock from Franklin was one of the 10 senators who opposed the bill. He did so because he said it includes a new tax that he thinks will be raised in the future.

"It's a foot in the door, it's the ability to have this, that may be palatable at a very low rate today, and the intent will be next year and the following year to come back for more."—Franklin Sen. Randy Brock

"It becomes a mandate that's permanent, it's a foot in the door,” said Brock. “It's the ability to have this that may be palatable at a very low rate today and the intent will be next year and the following year to come back for more."

The Senate and the House will now need to reconcile their two bills. A key difference is the House bill allows individuals to take leave time for a personal illness. The Senate plan does not.

Either way,  Governor Scott has consistently opposed a mandatory leave approach.

Instead, he backs a bi-state voluntary plan with New Hampshire that would include all state employees in both states as the initial insurance pool but Vermont lawmakers have shown little interest in the Governor's proposal.