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

Senate Votes For Expanded Paid Family Leave. Will Scott Veto?

Lawmakers gathered in the Senate at the kickoff of the biennium in 2017. Now, lawmakers will return for a special session next week.
Angela Evancie
VPR File
The Vermont Senate has given its strong approval to an expanded Paid Family Leave bill

The Vermont Senate has given its final approval to the paid family leave bill. But the measure has an uncertain future because it's likely that Gov. Phil Scott will veto the legislation.

Under the bill, all employees would be eligible for 12 weeks of paid parental leave or six weeks of leave time to take care of a sick family member.

Senate Economic Development chairman Michael Sirotkin says the bill is needed to reflect a major demographic shift in the state: A trend that finds many people caring for their young children and their older parents.

"Most families today struggle to balance employment and family care because today most workers are also caregivers.,” said Sirotkin. “It's time we adapt and create new policies to meet the needs of the evolving workforce."  

“It's time we adapt and create new policies to meet the needs of the evolving workforce." — Senate Economic Development chairman Michael Sirotkin

Workers would receive 70 percent of their salary from a special state fund. The plan is financed through the imposition of a small income tax surcharge on all workers. For a person earning $50,000 a year, the new tax would be approximately $70.

Businesses with fewer than 10 employees are exempt from the legislation.

Lamoille Sen. Richard Westman voted for the bill because he says it can be very difficult for a person to work full-time and care for an older family member when a serious health issue suddenly arises.

"We have to begin to in the overall rethink the way we offer services,” said Westman. “For me dealing with someone that's older, that catastrophe is a moment in time that I need a breath."

Caledonia senator Jane Kitchel said she wanted to support the bill. But Kitchel said the income tax surcharge is a regressive tax that will hurt lower-income Vermonters.

"Which means in fact what we have is some income redistribution from the lower wage workers to higher wage workers and to me that's a troubling transfer." — Caledonia Sen. Jane Kitchel

She's also concerned that many lower income people will not participate in the program because they can't afford to live on 70 percent of their salary.

"Which means in fact what we have is some income redistribution from the lower wage workers to higher wage workers and to me, that's a troubling transfer," said Kitchel.    

The Senate bill does make some changes in the plan passed by the House last session. House members will now decide if those changes are acceptable. 

The strong Senate vote in favor of the bill indicates there are enough votes in that chamber to override a gubernatorial veto.

But if House Republicans stick together on this issue, it's likely that they'll have the votes to sustain the governor's veto.

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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