Vermont Senate to Reconsider Paid Sick Leave Bill

Feb 9, 2016

The Vermont Senate last week appeared to give final approval to a bill that mandates paid sick leave. But as WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, the chamber will reconsider that vote tomorrow.

Last Wednesday, the Vermont Senate approved H-187, the Healthy Workplaces bill, on a 21 to 8 vote.   It requires that employers provide a minimum of three paid sick days a year during the first two years after implementation and five days thereafter.  Employers with five or fewer full-time workers are exempted until 2018.

The Senate had rejected an amendment to make that exemption permanent.  

In a procedural move on Thursday, Washington County Republican Senator William Doyle requested that his vote on the defeated amendment be reconsidered.  That motion was approved, meaning there will be a new vote on both the amendment and the bill.   “No matter how that amendment goes I’m going to vote for paid leave, period.  I wasn’t trying to take anything away from paid leave. A whole story was built up that it was political, that I did it when the governor was away and that had nothing to do with it. The root of the issue is that small businesses have a hard time hanging on. Plus the fact that I think that small business is at the heart of our success as a nation.  For a small business, 3 or 4 people, to pay the paid leave that could present a problem, that’s all. I mean I think it’s good for the nation to have paid leave.  If you’ve got a very small business paid leave can be a little bit of a problem.”

The amendment being reconsidered was introduced by Democratic Bennington Senator Brian Campion.   “I was concerned with all of the exemptions that currently exist in the bill. For example areas like the ski industry and colleges and universities and other corporations that have part-time employees or seasonal employees, they were all exempt… And then coming and saying to our small businesses with fewer than 5 employees ‘Listen we know we’re not asking the big guys to do it, but you need to do it.’ So I thought exempting our smallest employers, for the time being, would provide some balance.”

The Campion amendment failed 15-14.  Campion says he initially did not aggressively push for its passage, but plans a more passionate prompting on Wednesday.  “I think we were all surprised that there were that many of us that obviously have some reservations about putting this on our smallest employers without, again, asking some of our bigger employers.”

While Senators like Campion and Doyle debate how much and who should be allowed paid sick leave, National Federation of Independent Business Vermont Representative Kris Jolin says the state should reject the measure.   “It will raise the cost of doing business for all businesses. It will increase the price of goods and services. And will continue to make Vermont a higher cost of living state.”

Jolin does not believe that the Campion Amendment would help any businesses in any way.   “They think they’re doing a good service to exempt these small businesses.  But even with this exemption businesses will still be damaged and the majority of our members and small businesses in Vermont will be damaged. There are plenty of businesses with more employees than that that are a small operation that it’ll hurt just as much as it would the smaller ones.  You can’t advocate for one group and completely disregard another group.  So it’s still going to hurt the majority of small businesses.”

Senator Campion retorts that the state is moving toward paid sick leave and the challenge is making it equitable.   “Ideally what we would be doing is we would be treating this perhaps like we treat the minimum wage: everybody has to do it. Unfortunately what’s happened is we do have a lot of folks that are exempted. I think we’ve got to move more in the direction of an all-in for fairness.”

The Vermont Senate is scheduled to reconsider the Campion amendment and H-187 on Wednesday.
The bill passed the House in the last session 72-63.