MONTPELIER — With two weeks to go before the Legislature’s crossover deadline, a House bill that would mandate paid sick leave for employers remains on the back burner without any immediate plan to consider it.
Rep. Tristan Toleno, D-Brattleboro, introduced legislation that would require employers to allow workers to accrue paid sick time. It was touted by Toleno and advocates as a compromise compared to a Senate version that did not include some of the transition measures in the House bill.
Toleno’s bill establishes a standard of paid leave workers can earn, but includes a 500-hour waiting period for employees before the benefit kicks in. That amounts to about three months of full-time work. It also phases in the benefit at a slower rate than previous legislative efforts, allowing employees to earn up to three days of sick time in the first two years, increasing to five days after that.
The idea of mandating that businesses allow workers to accrue paid sick time has had trouble gaining traction with lawmakers in recent years. Many have been reluctant to foist a new burden on Vermont’s small businesses. Advocates were hopeful that Toleno’s bill would ease opposition from the business community.
But it continues to languish in the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee. It’s chairwoman, Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, said it’s unclear if it will be taken up.
“There’s been no decision made about that,” she said.
In order for the bill to advance this year it will need to clear the House by the March 13 crossover deadline. With lawmakers on a week-long break next week for Town Meeting day, time is rapidly ticking away. And at the moment, there is no plan to take it up after the break.
“It’s not on our schedule for the week after break,” Head said. “I know that there are a lot of people that have interest in it in the building that are talking to me and various other committee members.”
Head said she will poll members of her committee before deciding what to do.
“I get input from each of the members both individually and sometimes as a group as well, and I also hear from members outside the committee as well,” she said. “I think that the stakeholders that are in favor of it appear to be broader and stronger than they have been in previous years.”
Toleno said he remains hopeful that the committee will consider the legislation. So far, he said legislative leaders and Head have made a “pragmatic choice” to focus on big picture issues like the budget.
“I think that people who’ve been here for a while are thinking that the particular challenges that are involved in trying to shift a structural deficit in the budget are forcing some pretty deep work and some deep rethinking and it’s just taking up the bandwidth,” he said. “We’re sort of in a phase now where that work is coming to a head and maybe there will be some space in the near term for people to really look out and see what else is on the landscape.”
Toleno said he and advocates who support the bill are still working to advance the bill.
“Whether it will move forward is out of may hands,” he said. “I am actively encouraging my party’s leadership and the committee’s leadership to find a path forward for the bill. I think there is strong interest in the building and outside the building for a conversation about what a pragmatic middle ground looks like.”
Still, Toleno said he acknowledges the challenges.
“Making crossover seems hard at this point considering they haven’t had the testimony, so I wouldn’t expect … that to suddenly materialize. I would welcome it if it did, but we’ll see what happens,” he said.