MONTPELIER — House lawmakers unveiled a proposal Thursday for a state-run paid family leave program, which Gov. Phil Scott promised to veto just hours later.
Reps. Matt Trieber, D-Bellows Falls, Sam Young, D-Glover, and Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, said at a State House news conference Thursday they plan to file a bill that will create the pooled insurance program that provides Vermonters up to 12 weeks of paid family leave. The program, which they said will likely be administered by the Vermont Department of Labor, would be funded by a 0.93 percent payroll tax that will be split evenly between employees and employers. Employees would be able to access 100 percent of their regular pay while on approved family or medical leave under the measure.
Treiber, a centrist Democrat, acknowledged he is an unlikely supporter of such a program.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I shouldn’t be standing here at this podium because this is not the type of bill I would typically support,” he said.
But Treiber said he consistently hears from employers that they like to treat their employers “life family,” and want to provide such a benefit.
“I’m excited to get behind a bill that allows state resources to be directed to make it easier for businesses to offer their employees, their family, a benefit that they wouldn’t be able to provide on their own,” Treiber said.
Three states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — have already implemented state-run family and medical leave programs. New York is preparing for a law that is set to take effect next year.
Treiber said the proposal is “not an entitlement.”
“This is something that people would be contributing to. This is something employers will contribute to,” he said. “It’s a policy that reflects the demographics of our state. It shows that we acknowledge that we have an aging population, that we need to keep younger families here. We need to help middle-class families thrive. That’s been a priority of both the new administration and the new speaker of the House, and this bill is the way to do it,” he said.
Although Republican Gov. Phil Scott has identified Vermont’s aging and stagnant population as a problem in Vermont, he made clear Thursday that he will not sign the proposal into law.
“I don’t think much of it, to be honest with you,” Scott said at his weekly news conference Thursday. “I’ve said that we’re not going to raise taxes and fees. We’re going to give Vermonters a break.”
He promised to veto any publicly-funded program that reaches his desk.
“If it’s going to raise taxes and fees, yes,” he said.
The proposal has the backing of the Democratic majority’s leadership, according to House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, who is among more than 40 co-sponsors of the proposal.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said she plans to look at the proposal and is “open to things we can do to really attract a good, strong workforce.” The proposal is part of the Democratic caucus’ “entire package of what we’re doing to really help families want to be here,” she said.
“When we talk about developing a work force, wanting younger families, wanting people to come here and raise children, wanting more young people in Vermont, then we’ve got to think about some policies that make them want to come here,” Johnson said.
The House will not sideline the plan because of the governor’s veto promise, according to Johnson.
“I am, unfortunately, not in control of what he does,” she said.
While some business groups support the measure, others have raised concerns about the impact it will have on them. Treiber said the proposal would have minimal impact on an employers’ bottom line. A salary of $100,000 would result in $930 due from the payroll tax per year, which would be split evenly between the employer and the employee, he said.
Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, said identical legislation will be introduced in the Senate next week.