by Ciara McEneany, Community News Service
Vermonters are one step closer to receiving job-protected leave to deal with the fallout of sexual and domestic violence as part of Democrats’ major paid leave bill, which passed through the House and into the Senate last month.
Since the start of the session the bill has seen a $17 million bump in its cost — likely heightening opposition from Gov. Phil Scott and employers in the state.
The bill, H.66, aims to create the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program. Along with providing traditional types of paid time off, the bill would also fund time off for survivors of domestic or sexual violence and their guardians.
Currently, survivors who need time away from work must use their own paid time off and risk losing income to arrange for legal and social services, counseling and medical care for themselves or their families.
“We already have a guaranteed paid sick leave law in Vermont, and that includes some safe leave, and it’s a very small amount of time,” said Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women, referring to a common term for sexual and domestic violence leave. “It’s like three to five days, but it does allow some time to be taken off, some paid time, to take off from work to deal with repercussions that come about from domestic and sexual violence.”
The bill would provide up to 12 weeks of safe leave, in which the survivor has the option to use their accrued sick leave, vacation time and any other paid time off or use the new state insurance plan.
The program would be funded from the $37 million pool lawmakers have allocated for the overall paid leave program from the state and a 0.55% payroll tax. When the bill was introduced in January, it proposed $20 million in funding and a 0.58% payroll tax.
“There was one change, which was that it started out as the employer would pay half of the contribution and the employee would pay the other half,” said Brown. “I believe that changed to where the employer pays the whole thing, but then they (can) collect half of it from the employee. And so that the result is probably going to be about the same.”
Groups such as the Vermont Chamber of Commerce believe a mandatory paid leave bill would add to existing burdens on employers in the state.
“From my understanding, the loss of an employee for an extended period of time is already a sort of tax on a business,” said Megan Sullivan, vice president of government affairs for the chamber. “You either have to hire someone temporarily or absorb that loss of productivity, and so adding an additional mandatory payroll tax is sort of adding to what is already a significant cost.”
Scott has proposed his own voluntary paid family and medical leave program instead of a mandatory program — leading backers of the bill to worry he will veto the measure. In a March statement, the governor said he believes the bill would cause further strain on employers in the state.
“With record state surpluses and high inflation, it is counterintuitive to force a new broad-base tax on already overburdened Vermonters — especially when there is an alternative path to achieve our goal,” said Scott.
H.66 was passed by the House last month and is now in the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs.