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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

With Close Vote, House Advances Paid Sick Days Bill

Angela Evancie
/
VPR/file
The legislation had opposition from both Republicans and Democrats. But Democratic Rep. George Till, shown here in February, says calculations for or against the bill need to include the positive impact it will have on public health generally.

House lawmakers late Wednesday afternoon gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require Vermont businesses to provide paid sick days to most workers. The Democrats responsible for its passage call it a labor rights victory. But Republicans say it’s the latest anti-business measure from Montpelier.

Republicans weren’t the only ones opposed to the paid sick days bill. And the narrow 76 to 66 margin of victory included "no" votes from more than a handful of Democrats. 

But during a three-hour floor debate, it was Republicans leading the charge against the legislation.

“I think sometimes that we think about small businesses as if they’re really wealthy people who can afford everything that we put on them,” said Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright, a Republican. “A lot of small businesses struggle, struggle to meet payroll, struggle to keep people employed.”

The Legislature’s own Joint Fiscal Office estimates the mandate could cost businesses as much as $14 million in added payroll expenses annually, once it’s fully implemented. The legislation would require three days of paid sick leave in the first 18 months after its enacted, then five days annually thereafter.

Pittsford Rep. Butch Shaw, also a Republican, said he appreciates the plight of the 60,000 Vermont workers that don’t currently receive paid sick days.

"Businesses can accrue benefits that far outweigh the costs, both in goodwill between their employees and the actual cost of having to replace employees." - Waterbury Rep. Tom Stevens

“This bill may be well intended, but unfortunately places another unfunded mandate on our business community,” Shaw said. “I have to ask myself, how much more can our small state businesses absorb while many of them are only working on a profit margin of 1 to 2 percent?”

Waterbury Rep. Tom Stevens, a Democrat on the committee that vetted the legislation, said there’s an economic case to be made in favor of paid sick days.

“Businesses can accrue benefits that far outweigh the costs, both in goodwill between their employees and the actual cost of having to replace employees,” Stevens said.

Jericho Rep. George Till, a medical doctor, said calculations for or against the bill need to include the positive impact it will have on public health generally.

"I have to ask myself, how much more can our small state businesses absorb while many of them are only working on a profit margin of 1 to 2 percent?" - Pittsford Rep. Butch Shaw

“I want to start with two simple questions. Do you want a sick food service worker preparing your meal? Do you want a sick child care worker taking care of your child, or grandchild?” Till said.

As it turns out, Till said the food service and childcare sectors also happen to be ones in which workers are among least likely to have access to paid sick days.

“I would urge people to vote for this bill if for no other reason than you’d like to be able to enjoy your next meal out or meal at the cafeteria without worrying about the health of the person who prepared your meal,” Till said.

The bill that passed Wednesday represents a compromise measure designed to win support from previously reluctant lawmakers. Workers won’t be able to use sick days until they’ve put in at least 1,400 hours with their employer. And it doesn’t cover seasonal or temporary workers.

The legislation is expected to win final approval in the House Thursday. It will head next to the Senate, where Majority Leader Philip Baruth says he’ll try to get it to the floor this year. Failing that, he says the legislation will be considered in the 2016 legislative session.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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