Gov. Phil Scott on Friday vetoed the mandatory paid family leave bill the legislature passed last week, setting up a showdown with lawmakers over the controversial insurance program.
Scott said his own voluntary leave proposal would be a better, more modest place to start than a mandatory, $29 million program funded by payroll taxes on all working Vermonters.
“I share the goal to provide a program that allows workers time to take care of family and personal health needs, and to bond with new children,” Scott said in a statement. “That’s why my administration has advocated for, and acted on, a voluntary paid family and medical leave plan.”
The widely expected move means each chamber of the legislature will now have to decide whether to attempt an override of Scott’s veto. It will take two-thirds of each chamber's voting members — 100 in the House and 20 in the Senate — for the bill to become law.
That could be a tough hurdle in the House, which passed H.107 with 89 votes in favor and 58 against. The Senate, by contrast, passed the bill with 20 votes in favor.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) said in a statement that she was "incredibly disappointed" by the governor's decision.
"The good news for Vermonters is that the Legislature will have an opportunity to stand with them and override this misguided veto," Johnson said. "This debate is not over and the House will take prompt action next week.”
A statement from Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) did not specifically mention an override. Instead, he noted that "paid family leave would make life better and more affordable for every Vermonter" who has a baby or needs to be with a sick relative.
"The Governor’s team recognized this when they granted a paid leave benefit to all state employees using our tax dollars," Ashe wrote. "Now it’s time to extend that wisdom to every Vermont employee."
At least one group that's in favor of a paid family and medical leave program voiced its opposition to the bill Scott vetoed. Main Street Alliance of Vermont released a statement saying it could not support the measure because of compromises that included the privatization of the program.
"While our motivations for opposing this bill are vastly different than the governor’s, we do agree that this flawed bill should not become law," Morgan Nichols, the group's state director, said in a statement.
After reaching an impasse on competing versions of the bill last year, House and Senate leaders struck a compromise this session.
The measure would allow most workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a newborn child. 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.
Supporters cited the program’s modest cost and numerous economic and societal benefits. Opponents objected to the program as another tax on working Vermonters, especially those in rural areas.
The vote wasn't purely along party lines. Five Progressive members of the House also opposed the bill because they felt it didn’t go far enough to help vulnerable Vermonters, especially its elimination of mandatory temporary disability insurance. That provision was made optional after the Senate sought to pare back the scale of the program.
In his veto, Scott also argued the bill didn’t account for the costs to establish and administer a new state benefit.