Business & Economy

Tripartisan group introduces paid family leave bill

Sarah Copeland Hanzas
Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, speaks in favor of a paid family and medical leave insurance program Thursday. On the left is Rep. Matthew Trieber, D-Bellows Falls. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
A tripartisan group of lawmakers is backing a bill that would create a state-administered paid family and medical leave program for workers in Vermont.

Reps. Matthew Trieber, D-Bellows Falls, Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, and Sam Young, D-Glover, are leading the group of more than 40 sponsors, including several Progressives and at least three Republicans.

The bill, which is currently being processed, would mandate that all employers and workers split a 0.93 percent payroll tax. The money would go to the Department of Labor, which would administer a paid family and medical leave fund, similar to the way it administers the unemployment insurance fund.

Workers meeting certain criteria to qualify for leave benefits would be able to take 12 weeks off from work to give birth or take care of a newborn or ill family member, among other things. The workers would make the same amount they usually do, paid from the state-administered fund.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I shouldn’t be standing here at this podium, because this is not the type of bill that I would typically support,” Trieber said at a news conference. He considers himself a moderate.

Matthew Trieber
Rep. Matthew Trieber, D-Bellows Falls, is the lead sponsor of the bill. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
“I represent a community right on the New Hampshire border. I do most of my shopping downtown, and what I consistently hear is, ‘We like to treat our employees like family, but leave us alone, or at least make that easier for us.’

“This bill does that. 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 would not otherwise be able to offer.”

Gov. Phil Scott, who ran a campaign on making Vermont more affordable, has opposed adding mandates that cost businesses money. He said at a news conference Thursday he would veto the bill “if it’s going to raise taxes and fees.”

“I don’t think much of (the proposal), to be honest with you,” he said. “I’ve said that we’re not going to raise taxes and fees.”

Others said the measure would be good for workers and businesses alike.

Copeland Hanzas, a small business owner who backed paid sick leave, pointed to her sister’s experience with coming back to work after giving birth. Because the sister could not afford to give up her paycheck, she took her 5-week-old son to work with her, Copeland Hanzas said.

“I don’t have young kids anymore, but I can contemplate what it means to have aging parents, and we need to be very mindful that there are so many Vermonters who are caring for their aging parents,” Copeland Hanzas said.

“When you have an employee who’s going through a very profound experience, you want to be able to support that person in moving through that life change, and you don’t want them to have to be stressed about work at a time that they should be concentrating on family,” she added.

family leave
Tara Hodgkins, a Vermonter who described herself as a conservative, speaks in favor of paid family and medical leave. Photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
Tara Hodgkins, a Vermont resident who called herself a conservative, said she fully supports the proposal. Hodgkins said she is the sole breadwinner in her household, with two children and a husband who has health conditions. However, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act — which grants unpaid time off — does not apply to her because she works for a small employer.

“If you look at the numbers, (my daughter) was born 52 weeks ago, and I went back to work 50 weeks ago,” Hodgkins said. “I took a combined 23 days off work for her birth and my son’s birth, and I would like to point out, too, that I was left with no time off for either of those years.”

She called paid family leave “a human issue,” not a political issue. “We need the time to care for ourselves, our children, our families, our aging parents. It doesn’t matter if we’re Democrat, Republican, anything. We’re just people at that point.”

The spokesperson for the Department of Labor, Jessica Gingras, said the department is still considering the proposal. She said the department is reviewing a report the Vermont Commission on Women completed on the feasibility of the program.

Trieber said the payroll tax on someone making $18 an hour would be $348 a year, split evenly between the worker and the employer. He said, as a worse case scenario, the worker and employer would each pay about $500 a year if the worker made $100,000.

Cary Brown, the executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women, said the program would save parents money. She said they would collectively spend between $2 million and $3.4 million less on child care every year.

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Erin Mansfield

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  • Tom Sullivan

    ““I don’t think much of (the proposal), to be honest with you,” he said. “I’ve said that we’re not going to raise taxes and fees”

    Thank You Governor Scott

  • Mike Gardner

    It would be nice if it exempted employers that already offer it. Otherwise we get hit twice

    • Emma Delaney

      Why would you want to be exempted instead of saving the money you’re spending on it now and still having your employees have the benefit?

  • Rich Lachapelle

    Private businesses are free to offer this perk at any time in order to attract employees who seek it out. Forcing them to offer it is like forcing them to offer free parking or free lunch or an annual cookout. Where does it end?

  • Neil Johnson

    Is this a $50 million dollar tax increase disguised as family leave? These are my numbers what am I missing?

    6,000 births per year 330,000 employed Vermonters
    say average wage $30,000

    0.0093 x 30000 + $279 per person tax
    $279 x 330,000 = $92,070,000 Revenue taken in by state

    $30,000 yearly salary/ 52 = $576.92 per week
    12 weeks x $576.92 = $6,923 benefit

    6,000 births x $6,923 benefit = $41,538,426 pay out to citizens

    Difference being $50,531,538 of extra money being kept by the state as added revenue. Yeah there is some overhead, but can’t imagine much. 115 checks written per week is what it would work out to.

    • Within several years this tax will need to be increased, as the “fund” will be out of money.
      Either raided by the legislature for something else, or everyone will want their 12 weeks paid, off. Ideas like this sound good, but reality is quite different- especially with the VT legislature.
      It also brings VT to the 3rd or 4th highest income tax in the country.

  • Todd Morris

    Why should a small business be asked to pay anything for this? It should be 100% paid for by the employees. The employer already has provided the job. Is that not enough? It is grossly unfair to small businesses. There is no consideration of the financial state of the business. The idea that business must be forced to pay for benefits of the employee is a relic of WWII where they began offering benefits to attract workers from a shrinking pool due to their going off to war. If these benefits are so important to the citizens of the state then everyone must pony up, not simply asking for extra from the employer. By burdening the employer you have a situation where trust funders get off owing nothing. The highly paid worker pays less than the struggling mom and pop business. This divides us. This creates anger. This is not the way to grow our economy. As an employer I’m willing to pay the same as everyone else but not a penny more than my neighbor.

  • edward letourneau

    The numbers presented do not make sense. Someone making $18 p/h gets $37,500 a year and pays $348. Someone making 3 times that amount pays $500? There is also the issue of everyone is taxed, but not everyone can get the benefit. That is morally wrong.

    • Douglas Hoffer

      The article says the cost for someone earning $18/hr would be $348 “split evenly between the worker and the employer.” That’s $174 for the worker. It also says that for someone earning $100,000, the worker and the employer would each pay $500.

      • Neil Johnson

        $18/hour is $36k per year, I don’t think it’s the average wage. It’s not split evenly it all comes from the citizen’s pay. The state hides 7+ % of the taxes every employee pays and calls it employment tax…’s pay that’s deducted form the employee and given to the state.

        Formula also says ..93%…. so again please, let’s look at the big picture. How much is state taking in and paying out.

        • Paul Richards

          ” The state hides 7+ % of the taxes every employee pays and calls it employment tax…’s pay that’s deducted form the employee and given to the state.”
          How else are they supposed to pay for the discriminatory pension plans?

  • Ian Wood

    The theme is common, year in and year out. VT is sick of the high taxes. Montpelier continues to push laws to raise taxes. Period.

  • Gary Murdock

    Have any of the sponsors of this expansion of state government considered what this will cost large employers in the state, for example GE and IBM? Do they think these business’s will just roll over and take it? And what about federal employees, is the federal government going to pay this new payroll tax? And then we have the State of VT, do they not realize that we the people will be footing the bill for the states portion of the payroll tax for state employees? Thankfully the governor will veto this ill-conceived progressive scheme if it ever sees the light of day.

  • No more taxes on individuals and businesses! We are not bottomless wells of money to be grabbed by doe eyed Vermont legislators who want to make every minute, of everyone’s life, comfortable and stress free. My business already does this for our employees. I do not want to subsidize other businesses that do not offer these benefits by paying another tax into the abyss of Montpelier.

  • Cheryl Ganley

    NO! This is not a program I want nor will I ever utilize the services of. If you want this service get insurance for it yourself, as it is available. Others should not be made to pay for your choices as we are already paying enough for them. Why is everything a human rights issue now? What happened to personal responsibility?

    • maggie hodder

      There is no insurance for paid maternity leave. If you say there is, then be prepared to back up your statement. So, what’s the name of this insurance company who offers paid maternity leave benefits?

  • Mike Fortuna

    My small business employs individuals with special technical skills. If one employee were to use such a benefit for many weeks, and assuming I need to keep that employee’s position open for them to return, I likely couldn’t continue operating. Today, if an employee has an obvious need for time off I’m able to help meet their needs in a way that works for all of us. In this new scenario, I’d imagine that employees would expect to take advantage of this benefit they are paying for. I’m honestly less concerned about the new payroll tax than adapting to a new business environment with more frequent, longer term absences. I’m sure my business isn’t unique and I’m hoping this is considered.

    • Rich Lachapelle

      The activists in the Vermont Legislature are not interested in hearing about the petty peculiarities of your particular business as they pursue a solution to providing what they regard as YET ANOTHER “human right”. Also, they will assume that no one would ever take advantage of such a program without a valid reason. We folks who live in the real world know that it would evolve into being used to take time off for trips to the veterinarian for our non-human family members (formerly known as pets), week-long yoga camps for stress relief and for staying home with the kids when their school has a snow day etc etc.
      ANY paid time off is a luxury that can be offered voluntarily by an employer, or not, at their discretion as part of a package of benefits. The entire concept of the government forcing a private employer to pay someone for NOT working is bizarre.

    • Neil Johnson

      They have no understanding about operating a business or how business works. It’s considered evil in most eyes and non-profits are perfection.

      Leading us to a non-profit healthcare system 2x more expensive than any on the planet, more than any other industrialized nation…it ain’t free that’s for sure.

  • Emma Delaney

    As a small business owner – I feel like finally the legislature is trying to do something to support me instead of always targeting incentives to big businesses. Family leave is so important, but not all businesses can afford to offer it. I’ve had more than one employee over the years return to work way too soon after having a baby because neither they nor I can afford to cover 12 weeks of time for them to be with their new baby. They have to keep earning money (most people do) and while I do my best to be flexible, I can’t afford to pay their salary and the salary of a temporary replacement employee. There are a lot of small businesses in this state and I’m grateful to the Representatives who are working on this issue. Thank you – for myself – and for paying attention to small businesses and the people who work for us. We appreciate the attention.

  • Neil Johnson

    Family planning, 1st consists of getting your personal finances in line to raise a child. You aren’t financially stable until you have 6 months of reserves built into your savings. Then you are stable. This plan is about 3 months time off. Planning personal savings is not the job of the state.

    • Martha Stretton

      “Planning personal savings is not the job of the state.” This is true. If dialogue started from this fact, rather than more statist assumptions, we might actually get somewhere.

  • Erin:Is there a bill # associated with this story?