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

Washington Senator Calls For A 'Reconsideration' Of Paid Sick Leave Bill

Angela Evancie
VPR file
Washington Sen. Bill Doyle, seen here in January, has called for "reconsideration" of a paid sick leave after the Senate voted 21-8 to approve the bill.

The Senate on Wednesday is scheduled to take final action on the paid sick leave bill. And there's a lot of political intrigue surrounding this vote.

Whenever the House or Senate takes final action on a bill, the legislation actually remains in the jurisdictional control of the chamber for a 24-hour period. This is done to allow a lawmaker to change his or her mind and request what's known as a "reconsideration" of the issue.

This procedure is very rarely used, but it happened late last week in the Senate over the paid sick leave bill.

Lindsay DesLauriers is the director of the Main Street Alliance, a group that strongly supports the bill. She notes that the Senate gave its final approval to the bill last week by a vote of 21-8.

"We think this is a common sense bill for Vermont,” DesLauriers says. “Vermont has been moving in this direction a long time and that was certainly reflected in the strong Senate vote."

But here comes "the procedural" controversy: The following day, Washington Sen. Bill Doyle asked for the reconsideration of an amendment that exempted businesses with five or fewer employees from the bill.

Since that amendment originally failed by just one vote, Doyle's switch could be very important when it comes up again on Wednesday.

DesLauriers says a number of small businesses oppose this amendment.

“They do not want to see it,” says DesLauriers. “They think that this benefit, if Vermont passes it, is a benefit like the minimum wage and should apply to all employers and all employees equally."

The legislation does several things: It provides at least three days of paid leave time to all employees for the first two years and then the leave time is increased to five days.

There's a one-year waiting period before the bill is implemented and the legislation doesn't cover seasonal employees.

Cathy Davis is the vice president for Public Affairs at the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce. She supports the small business exemption.

"This piece of legislation doesn't mean that these small businesses can't offer this benefit or that they won't. It's just saying that for these very smallest of businesses, they're not going to be required to do it." — Cathy Davis, Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce

"We do that in a lot of areas,” says Davis. "If you look at the Family Medical Leave Act, you know there's a small business exemption there.”

And Davis says a survey of their small business members shows that more than half of them already offer paid sick leave to their employees.

“You need to remember that this piece of legislation doesn't mean that these small businesses can't offer this benefit or that they won't,” Davis says. “It's just saying that for these very smallest of businesses they're not going to be required to do it." 

When the Senate reconsiders the small business exemption issue, some senators say they want to consider additional amendments to the bill.

But it's not clear if this action will be permitted under the rules of the Senate.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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