Paid Sick Leave Bill Passes Vermont House And Moves To Governor’s Desk
Vermont’s paid sick leave bill has received final passage in the legislature and the governor is expected to sign the measure into law. Supporters say the state has made a critical move forward in economic justice. But opponents contend it will hurt small businesses and the state’s economy.
The House voted 81-64 on Wednesday to approve H-187, the Healthy Workplaces bill, which it first passed last spring. The Senate approved the measure last week after several amendments failed, including an attempt to exempt businesses with under five employees.
Some changes were approved to make it somewhat more business-friendly, including a phase-in. Employers must provide workers three paid sick days a year for the first two years that the law is in effect and five days thereafter. The law will not apply to employees working fewer than 18 hours a week or 21 weeks a year.
Paid Sick Days Campaign Director at Voices for Vermont’s Children Annie Accettella says there are about 60,000 Vermonters who have had no access to paid time off. “It’s about economic security for working families and it’s also a public health issue. We’re trying to make it easier for families to have some sort of economic stability when they need to take time off to care for themselves or a family member during illness. And then there’s also the public health concern. You know you really don’t want waiters or other food service employees serving you food or making or preparing food while ill.”
Small business groups are not happy. House Minority Leader Republican Don Turner praised his caucus for unanimously voting against the bill, calling the measure flawed and an attack on Vermont business. “I view this as another unfunded mandate by state government. This one happens to be on private employers. You know this is going to hamper or put people out of business in some circumstances and others it may prevent a start up business from succeeding. This bill is not well thought out. There’s a lot of unanswered questions in this bill. It’s just unbelievable that we are passing this type of legislation and putting more and more burdens on Vermont businesses.”
National Federation of Independent Business state representative Kris Jolin believes it’s a bad bill that will drive up the cost of business, goods and services in the state. “It’s going to be hard for businesses to prepare for this. There are different business models throughout Vermont that unfortunately I don’t think that the Legislature even considered while passing this bill. Honestly when the proponents of this bill stood up on the floor to defend the merits of it not only do I think that it was obvious that they were completely ignorant of the consequences on small businesses but they didn’t even understand what they were voting on. This is more of a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Annie retorts that studies in states that have passed similar measures have shown the policy enhances business. “People lose sight of the benefits that are gained when you have reduced employee turnover. Reduced employee turnover, improved employee morale, these are all things that are long term benefits. So I do think it’s business friendly.”
Governor Peter Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro tem John Campbell – all Democrats — issued a joint statement after the bill’s passage expressing pride that the state will become the fifth to implement paid sick leave.