Senate passes paid sick leave bill, again

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers once again approved a bill requiring employers to grant their workers paid sick leave.

Wednesday afternoon, the Senate approved H.187, which will require all employers to offer three days of paid sick leave a year, beginning in 2018.

“Tens of thousands of working Vermonters who have long lacked such basic protections as paid sick days eagerly await the bill being signed by Governor Shumlin to move us another step forward toward a society that protects health and human rights for all,” said Isaac Grimm, lead organizer at Rights and Democracy.

The bill has had a long road, passing the House during the last legislative session before stalling in the Senate. This session, Senate lawmakers took up the bill, culminating with its passage last week.

Joe Benning discusses paid sick leave on Wednesday.

Josh O'Gorman / VPB

Joe Benning discusses paid sick leave on Wednesday.

However, Sen. William Doyle, D-Washington, said the next day he was “confused” and asked to reconsider his vote, a right he had because he had voted with the winning side.

Specifically, Doyle wished to revisit his vote on a proposed amendment from Brian Campion, D-Bennington, who sought to create an exemption for businesses that employ five or fewer people.

On Wednesday, Senate Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, offered an amendment of his own as a substitution for Campion’s amendment, calling for a study to learn the impact mandatory paid sick leave will have on employers.

“One thing we need to make sure is that businesses are not being smothered or will be forced to close their doors,” Campbell said.

Under the terms of the bill, beginning Jan. 1, 2017, employers with more than five employees would be forced to offer paid sick leave to employees who work 30 hours or more. For employers with five or fewer employees, the start date would be Jan. 1, 2018.

Campbell’s amendment called for the study to be due no later than Jan. 15, 2017. Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, took issue with the idea of having a study come in after the law has already been implemented for many employers.

“It is disingenuous to pass a bill based on an assumption and then conduct a study to see if the assumption is valid,” Benning said.

Kevin Mullin discusses paid sick leave on Wednesday.

Josh O'Gorman

Kevin Mullin discusses paid sick leave on Wednesday.

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said Campbell’s substitute amendment was an attempt to suppress Campion’s amendment calling for an exemption for small businesses.

“This is about preventing the vote for five or fewer employees,” Mullin said. “We should have a vote on five or fewer employees and be done with it.”

Instead, by a vote of 15 to 14, Senate lawmakers voted to substitute Campion’s amendment with Campbell’s amendment.

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington cast a crucial vote in favor of the substitution, a reversal from his position the previous week when he voted to support Campion’s amendment.

“I was disappointed in the process that was used get Sen. Doyle to change his vote,” Sears said. “I thought that was totally inappropriate.”

Sears said he also took issue with the rhetoric offered by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which lobbied against the paid sick leave bill.

“If that’s the way these guys feel, and given everything else, I said, ‘I’ll vote against my partner from Bennington County,’” Sears said.

Following the vote, NFIB representative Kris Jolin offered his thoughts on the legislation.

“Instead of debating the merits of exempting employers with five or fewer employees, lawmakers should be focusing on the fact that they are creating a disincentive for the smallest of businesses to expand,” Jolin said. “The small business community has been suffering at the hands of irresponsible and short-sighted policies for years and this is one more idea whose consequences will lead to further damaging our employment market which is anemic, at best.”

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