Senate Passes Minimum Wage Bill, but Scott Remains Cool to Proposal | Off Message

Senate Passes Minimum Wage Bill, but Scott Remains Cool to Proposal


Gov. Phil Scott at a press conference Thursday - COLIN FLANDERS
  • Colin Flanders
  • Gov. Phil Scott at a press conference Thursday
The Vermont Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would raise the state's minimum wage twice over the next two years. The bill, which had already passed the House, now heads to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk, where it will join the recently passed measure to create a paid family and medical leave program.

“It’s been four years — and some might say a tortuous journey — for us to get to this point,” said Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) before Thursday’s 23-6 vote. “Hopefully it ends here today.”

Indeed, Thursday's passage marks a temporary pause in what has been a long and contentious pursuit of the Democratic-controlled legislature’s two marquee economic priorities. After reaching an impasse on competing versions of the bills last session, House and Senate negotiating committees swiftly hashed out compromise measures earlier this month.

But while both measures secured a veto-proof majority in the Senate, they failed to meet that threshold in the House. All eyes now shift to Scott, who vetoed different versions of the plans  in 2018 and appears ready to strike down at least one again this year.

The minimum wage bill, S.23, is considered to have a far better chance at becoming law this time around.

It would hike the current rate of $10.96 per hour to $11.75 in 2021 and to $12.55 in 2022 before it would again be tied to inflation — a compromise from past proposals. And Scott appeared open to considering the trimmed-down measure last week, with his spokesperson telling Seven Days in a statement that the governor recognizes that the legislature has “come a long way” from its initial $15 goal.

But the governor struck a different note hours before Thursday's vote. He reiterated his long-standing concerns about the impact to rural areas and argued that the new bill's figures actually don't represent much of a compromise.

"It's the same trajectory,” he said during his weekly press conference at the Statehouse. “Next year, I'm sure those same folks that say it's a compromise are probably writing the bill right now to raise it to $15 in two more years.”

Scott declined to say whether he would veto the bill. Instead, he vowed to “reflect” on what passed the Senate on Thursday and determine his action from there.

The paid leave plan is on thinner ice.

That bill, H.107, would allow most workers to take up to 12 weeks paid leave to bond with a newborn child, and a couple would be able to take up to a combined 24 weeks. Lower-income workers would receive up to 90 percent of their pay during the leave; higher-paid workers would get a lower percentage. Workers who need to care for a sick family member would get eight weeks of paid leave.

Scott has shown some support for the concept. He recently negotiated a paid family leave benefit with the Vermont State Employees' Association. But his consistent opposition to the legislature’s desire to create a mandatory program funded with a payroll tax suggests that a veto is a virtual certainty.

Scott has until late Saturday evening to issue his decision on the leave bill. He said he plans to take all the time allotted to him. He will then have five days from the time he receives the minimum wage bill to sign or veto that one.

Overriding a veto of either would require Democratic leaders in the house to flip a handful of votes. The minimum wage measure passed with a 93-54 vote, seven short of the two-thirds majority. A bigger gulf stands in the way of the leave bill; the chamber came up 11 votes short of the total needed to override.

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