The Vermont Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill that would allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.
The House passed a similar bill last year, but Gov. Phil Scott has opposed the legislation because it would impose a new tax on employees.
Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) emphasized that the proposal was “modest” — a word he repeated at least half a dozen times — and would come at no cost to employers.
“It is all paid for by the worker,” he said, explaining that employees would fund the program through an additional 0.136 percent tax on their income. The state-administered fund would allow workers to receive 70 percent of their wages for up to 12 weeks of parental leave or up to six weeks of family leave.
The tax would be on just the first $150,000 of an employee’s income.
Sirotkin cast the legislation as an important benefit for new parents and for people caring for sick relatives, and he argued that it would strengthen the state's labor force. But some senators questioned the wisdom of creating a new program.
“I have no question that this is a wonderful benefit,” said Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), who noted that her sister, a California resident, was able to care for their dying brother as a result of that state’s paid family leave program. But Kitchel objected to the regressive nature of the tax, stating that “it is taxing Vermonters whose incomes are so low they qualify for food stamps.”
She listed a litany of underfunded social services programs before concluding, “It is with a great deal of personal angst … that I simply cannot say this is my first priority.”
Correction, 11:30 a.m., May 9, 2018: An earlier version of this story misstated who would be included in the paid family leave program. The program would encompass employees, regardless of the size of the business that employs them.