Last week the Vermont House took an important step toward joining the rest of the world when we approved H.107, a paid family and medical leave bill, by a vote of 92-52. I believe this is crucial not just for Vermonters to faces unexpected emergencies, but to attract young families to the state.
We can and will continue to argue over who should pay how much and what the benefit levels should be, but we are on the right path. H.107 is essentially an insurance program that says that if you are faced with recovery from an illness or accident, caring for an elderly parent or other family member, or the birth of a child, you can take time to do so without the fear of job loss and financial ruin that so often results.
As passed, the bill requires employees to fund the program with a payroll tax of 1%, decreasing to 0.55% in 2020. Employers can choose to fund some or all of this benefit, which has the potential to become a valuable recruiting tool in a tight labor market. There has been spirited debate about whether funding should be an employee/employer split, but for now it is on employees.
Benefits are generally 90% of pay at lower income levels, but capped for high earners, with time limits of eight weeks for personal medical or family caregiving, and twelve weeks for the birth of a child. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Also last week the Senate sent the House a bill banning single use plastic bags, styrofoam food containers, and plastic straws on a 30-0 vote. In addition the Senate began the multi-year process of amending the VT Constitution. A successful amendment must pass in both the Senate with a 2/3 vote, and in the House, in two different bienniums and then pass in a statewide vote. The process is designed to be difficult to avoid rash actions.
Several constitutional proposals are under discussion. On Friday the Senate approved amending the constitution to include a woman’s right to reproductive choice, 28-2. That now moves to the House to complete the first round of voting. The second round would be in 2021.
Another proposed amendment is to remove all mention of slavery from the VT Constitution. Most Vermonters know that we were the first state to ban slavery, but not many know that was only a partial ban. Article 1 states that “… no person ought to be beholden by law, to serve another person as a servant, slave, or apprentice, after arriving to the age of twenty-one years, unless bound by the person’s own consent, after arriving to such age, or bound by law for the payment of debt, damages, fines, costs, or the like.” That might need some clean-up.
In addition to these issues and my work on the Energy and Technology Committee I am closely involved in include Dual Enrollment problems affecting VT kids in NY schools, slate quarries and Act 250 revisions, revising incompatible positions for Town Officers, and shifting to ranked choice voting in certain elections.
As always , please contact me with questions, concerns, or comments.