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Paid Family Leave Bill Clears Milestone In Vermont Senate

Legislation approved by the Vermont Senate on Friday would use a 0.2% payroll tax on most workers in the state to fund a paid leave benefit.
Elodie Reed
Legislation approved by the Vermont Senate on Friday would use a 0.2% payroll tax on most workers in the state to fund a paid leave benefit.

Reporter Peter Hirschfeld spoke with All Things Considered host Henry Epp about the passage of paid leave in the Senate. Listen above.

The Vermont Senate approved paid family leave legislation Friday by enough votes to override an expected veto by Gov. Phil Scott.

Find the bill here.

Democratic lawmakers have been working on the paid family leave legislation since the beginning of last year. Addison County Sen. Ruth Hardy said its passage marks a watershed.

"As a mother of three kids who never had a paid maternity leave and who’s cared for two elderly parents through illnesses, this will help a lot of Vermonters," Hardy said on the Senate floor Friday. "This package that we are passing today will make a difference to the lives of many, many, many of our constituents."

Legislation approved by the Senate Friday would use a 0.2% payroll tax on most workers in the state to fund the paid leave benefit.

Scott has said he prefers a voluntary program, where workers could opt in if they choose, and he’s indicated he'll veto the Legislature’s proposal. Senate lawmakers passed the bill by a vote of 20-9, however, which means they have the supermajority needed to override.

The legislation is now headed to the Vermont House, where lawmakers will soon find out if they have a veto-proof supermajority in that chamber as well.

More from VPR — Vermont Legislative Leaders Look Ahead At Issues They Want To Tackle In 2020 [Jan. 5]

The paid family leave legislation has come under fire from the right for its reliance on a new payroll tax, but the compromise plan passed by the Senate also has critics on the left.

The bill provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a newborn, or an adoption. It also allows for eight weeks of paid leave to care for an ailing child, domestic partner, parent, sibling, grandparent or grandchild.

The legislation does not, however, create an automatic paid leave benefit for personal illnesses — a provision dropped after Senate lawmakers raised concerns over cost.

A coalition of paid leave advocates has been calling on lawmakers to reintroduce mandatory coverage for personal illness. But Chittenden County Sen. Michael Sirotkin said Vermonters will still be able to opt in for personal illness leave, by volunteering to pay a higher payroll tax.

"It just makes me feel like perhaps we have opposition from both sides, that perhaps we’ve hit a sweet spot here," Sirotkin said Friday. "And I hope we have."

UPDATE: This post was edited to clarify the benefits provided in the paid leave bill.

Copyright 2020 Vermont Public Radio

Peter Hirschfeld covers state government and the Vermont Legislature. He is based in VPR’s Capital Bureau located across the street from Vermont’s Statehouse.

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