by Guy Page
Following Gov. Phil Scott’s Dec. 5 announcement of a voluntary paid family leave program, leaders of the Vermont House and Senate appear to be split on passing mandatory, universal paid family leave bill this year.
John Walters of The Vermont Political Observer reports: After Scott announced his program, Krowinski issued a strong statement decrying the voluntary program and labeling the issue a top priority. But Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth told VTDigger that “he had doubts about the wisdom of pushing for a robust paid leave program in the upcoming session” The Senate is planning a push on child care, and Baruth worries that tackling two big social safety net programs in one session might constitute “overreach.”
State support for child care and paid family leave are seen as solutions for Vermont’s skilled worker shortage. Scott hopes to attract and retain workers seeking paid leave, without levying heavy taxes on the entire workforce.
Vermont Republican lawmaker leadership – unable to muster the votes to sustain a veto if Baruth and Krowinski unite behind a paid family leave bill – strongly support of Scott’s plan.
Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock (R-Franklin) And House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy (R-Poultney) issued the following statement Wednesday in response to Governor Scott’s announcement:
“Vermont Legislative Republicans applaud Gov. Scott for creating a voluntary paid family and medical leave program,” said Sen. Brock. “More than three years ago, Gov. Scott proposed this innovative way to deliver a critical benefit to Vermonters, but the Legislature failed to give the Governor’s plan its due consideration. Instead, the majority party advanced a controversial mandatory paid leave plan financed by payroll taxes that Vermonters simply could not afford. In fact, the mandatory paid leave plan would have created a $29 million new tax on workers that would have inevitably been increased in future years as costs accumulated, all while excluding thousands of part-time and other Vermonters from receiving the benefit. The Governor’s proposal is clearly superior.”
“After years of waiting, Vermonters will be able to voluntarily access this essential benefit if they so choose–without paying a new mandatory tax,” added McCoy. “Not only will individuals be able to purchase coverage once the program is fully implemented, but businesses will be able to work with insurance providers to customize plans for their employees, helping to recruit more workers. Furthermore, this voluntary approach will avoid the headaches of administrative costs and IT systems that a state-run, mandatory program would entail.”
“Finally, by using the state employee pool to anchor the program, Vermonters will be able to access these benefits at affordable rates,” concluded Brock. “Vermont Legislative Republicans are eager for the program to launch, and thank Governor Scott and his administration for their hard work on this effort.”