Legislation creating paid family leave in Vermont has gotten a big boost at the Statehouse, as the head of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs says the proposal is a top priority for the panel.
However, the outlook for the bill is still uncertain because Gov. Phil Scott opposes the legislation.
Under the bill that passed the House last year, all employees would be eligible for six weeks of paid leave at 80 percent of their salary. The plan is paid for by imposing a small income tax surcharge — in the amount of 14 hundredths of 1 percent — on all workers.
For someone making $40,000 a year, the tax would be roughly $55. Employers would be exempt from the new tax.
Chittenden County Sen. Michael Sirotkin, the chairman of the Economic Development Committee, describes the House bill as a "modest" effort to provide critical benefits to all workers.
"People have difficulty in taking leave when they're sick because they can't afford to take the time off and in some cases they don't have job protection to come back," said Sirotkin. "And I think it's a real working-class issue."
Rebecca Kelley, the governor's communications director, says the bill breaks Scott's pledge not to raise any taxes or fees this year.
"He's been very clear Vermonters cannot afford new taxes and fees this year, and we want to have a second year in a row where we don't raise any new taxes or fees on Vermonters," said Kelley. "And so this approach of doing this through a new tax would not be something the governor supports.”
And Kelley says Scott would like to see if the program could be set up on a voluntary basis.
"It's something that we should look into — there could be an option for a voluntary program and that would be something that the governor could get behind,” said Kelley.
But Sirotkin says the proposal is more like an insurance program that requires the participation of all employees.
"We provide unemployment benefits when people are laid off, we provide workers comp when people are injured on the job," said Sirotkin. "This is another legitimate family need, and we want to be family friendly.”
The Senate Economic Development Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill on Tuesday, April 10 at the Statehouse.