Campbell: Attention From White House Not Enough To Pass Paid Sick Leave

Apr 29, 2015

The Obama administration has made a direct appeal to the Senate lawmaker who controls the fate of the paid sick days bill in Vermont. But even lobbying from the White House won’t be enough to get the legislation across the finish line this year.

It isn’t often that Senate President John Campbell hears from top aides to the president of the United States. 

“So it was interesting, you know, having someone from the White House call,” Campbell says.

The call came Monday. The person on the other end was White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Jerry Abramson, according to Campbell. And the message was clear.

“He called and he said that he had spoken to the president, who had asked him to call me and discuss the sick leave bill,” Campbell says.

President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address back in January to call on state legislatures across the country to adopt laws requiring employers to provide workers with paid sick days. 

The Vermont House last week approved just such a measure. The bill would require three days of paid sick leave in the first two years of the law, then five days annually thereafter.

But the bill is jammed up in the Senate, where it’s stalled in a procedural committee that hasn’t shown an inclination to set it free to the next phase of the legislative process. Maneuvering from the Senate president is about the only thing that could revive the bill in 2015, hence Abramson’s call to Campbell.

“And he inquired about if I would be able to get that out,” Campbell says.

Campbell says that Abramson, the former Democratic lieutenant governor of Kentucky, made a good pitch. But Campbell says it won’t be enough to get paid sick leave into law this year.

“We don’t have the time, really – three weeks [until adjournment], morning committees aren’t meeting, we have to get the budget out,” Campbell says. 

Campbell says there aren’t enough days left in the session to give him and other senators the time they need to address their primary concern with the legislation.

“I want to make sure that the small businesses … will not be negatively impacted by what happens in the bill,” he says.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has come out in favor of the House version of the paid sick days bill. Lindsay DesLauriers, state director of the Main Street Alliance advocacy group, and a leader of a coalition to pass the paid sick days bill, says proponents will come back to finish the job in 2016.

“We feel this is a strong bill, we feel this is right bill, we feel this is a winning bill, and we hope the Senate will agree next year,” DesLauriers says.

It wasn’t the first call from the White House to the Statehouse this year. Last week, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett called House Speaker Shap Smith to thank him for his support of the sick days bill.