Jen Kimmich, cofounder of the Alchemist brewery, urging legislators Tuesday to override Gov. Phil Scott's veto
Vermont lawmakers will try on Wednesday to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of their mandatory paid family and medical leave program, and the vote may be a nail-biter.
House leaders will hold an afternoon floor vote and will need two-thirds of the members present — 100 if all 150 members show up — to block the veto.
“This is a critical vote,” House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) told Democrats during a Tuesday caucus. “This is our signature issue for this legislative session for this caucus, so attendance is critical.”
With 89 House votes cast in favor of H.107 last month, lawmakers would have to pick up 11 additional yes votes Wednesday to power past Scott's veto. Three are easy gets: two supporters who missed the January 23 vote and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), who votes during veto overrides.
That means eight of the representatives who voted against the bill itself would have to support it to override the gov. It’s unclear if enough votes are in hand. Krowinski would only say that members of House leadership were “continuing to have this conversation with members” about this “historic vote.”
"We have members who are carefully considering the impact of their vote and how important it will be," Krowinski said, adding that leadership was there to help "support those members in their thinking process."
After reaching an impasse on competing versions of the bill last session, House and Senate leaders hammered out a compromise last month. The program would allow most workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a newborn child and eight weeks to care for a sick family member. The $29 million insurance program would be funded by a mandatory payroll tax.
Progressive members of the House had argued strongly that the compromise was flawed because it made personal disability insurance voluntary. But all five Progressives who voted against the original bill have decided to flip their votes in favor Wednesday, according to Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington).
Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman (P-Middletown Springs) alluded to the possibility last month when he told Seven Days that a veto override was “a different calculus” than a vote against the bill itself.
Even since the original vote, a subtle campaign has been under way to convince members to play ball, said Rep. Chris Bates (D-Bennington), one of the "no" votes on the bill who says he remains so.
“They have ways of pressuring you to change your vote,” Bates said.
Numerous advocates and legislators have tried to convince him to support the override despite his disagreement with the mandatory nature of the program.
“I listen to what they say. It never works,” Bates said, arguing that the program should be voluntary, like the one Gov. Scott has proposed.
Rep. Randall Szott (D/P-Barnard) said party leaders have long since stopped trying to get him to support the compromise bill, but he’s aware they’ve been “dangling stuff” in front of other members.
Mostly this has taken the form of “empty promises” to improve the program in the future, which Szott says he doubts would happen. “They are trying to find a way to grant them a graceful exit to change their vote,” Szott said.
Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan (D-Dorset) voted against the bill, but declined to say how she would vote on the override. (Sullivan announced Tuesday she would challenge incumbent Doug Hoffer for state auditor.)
Some advocates who oppose the compromise bill say they’ve experienced pressure from lawmakers that they view as inappropriate.
“Advocates and legislators have distinct roles in the development of public policy, and we’re going to disagree with each other from time to time,” said Michelle Fay, executive director of Voices for Vermont's Children. “But for legislators to threaten to shelve our shared policy priorities because we didn’t fall in line when they asked is self-defeating and deeply disappointing.”
She declined to name legislators or specify the threats, citing the “delicacy” of the matter.
Katherine Levasseur, Johnson's aide, said she was "very disappointed" an activist would make such a charge.
"Those tactics are not used by the leadership team," Levasseur said in a statement.
Pressure from influential interest groups was on full display at the Statehouse, with representatives of AARP Vermont and the 13,000-member Vermont-National Education Association, the state's largest teacher’s union, urging the override.
“It would really be a shame if all of the women in the state missed out on paid time off when they are having their babies,”said Jen Kimmich, cofounder of the Alchemist brewery in Stowe. “If all of the families and all of the men miss out on paid time off to take care of their wives when they are ill, that would be a real shame just because this bill ‘doesn’t go far enough.’ Let’s get it going. Come on.”