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Legislative Report 1/29/2020

Dear Readers, 

I wanted to take the opportunity this week share my thoughts about the two major bills that passed the House last week, H. 107 (Paid Family Leave) and S.23 (Minimum wage). I will cover those two bills separately, and then I will also write about the bills currently underway in the House Education Committee. As always, please feel free to email me at anytime with follow up questions, or to ask about a bill I haven't addressed here. 

H. 107 - Paid Family Leave Bill (I voted in favor)

After failing to clear both legislative chambers in 2019, H. 107 started the 2020 session in a Committee of Conference. Committees of Conference consists of 3 Representatives from the House and 3 members of the Senate. These ad hoc committees are tasked with reconciling the differences between House and Senate versions of a bill. In the case of H.107, the Senate amendments had stripped from the House bill the program of mandatory TDI (temporary disability insurance).  The Senate version had also limited the total number of weeks available for new parents. In the Committee of Conference, the TDI program was included, but as a voluntary option. However, the total weeks of paid time off for new parents were increased to 24 weeks (twelve per parent). This benefit would be available to new parents following a birth, an adoption, and also to foster parents following the placement of a child in DCF custody. 

In addition to the 12 weeks following the arrival of a new child, 8 weeks can be taken to care for a spouse, parent or child and 6 weeks can be taken to care for a grandparent or sibling. No more than 12 weeks can be taken by any individual in one year. For those who choose to purchase the TDI coverage, they will pay at a higher rate on their payroll but will be eligible for up to 6 weeks of personal leave for an injury or illness.  For some concrete numbers, here's an example: A worker making $700 per week would pay $1.40 in a mandatory payroll fee, which would make them eligible for parental leave, or to care for a family member. If that individual elected to get the TDI coverage, they would pay an additional $2.66 per week. 

The report of the Committee of Conference was approved with 89 votes. Notably not enough to overcome the veto promised by Governor Scott. All but one member of the Progressive caucus voted against the compromise version of the bill, as well as 5 Democrats. I'm not sure this bill will be able to muster the 100 votes necessary to override a veto, but I hope it will. I believe this program provides real value for money for Vermonters. This is basically an insurance program, and provides a type of coverage that is very difficult to obtain for many workers. If your employer already offers these benefits, you can be exempted from the program and don't have to buy in . 

S. 23 - Minimum Wage (I voted in favor)

Similarly to H.107, S.23 started the year in a Committee of Conference. The bill as originally introduced in 2019 included a path to $15/hr by 2024. The Committee of Conference version scales that back to $12.55 by 2022 and then returning to a CPI (consumer price index) rate of increase after that time. This was a compromise, because even though the bill does not mandate $15/hr, the rates of increase in 2021 and 2022 are larger than they would have been under the original bill. The Conference Committee version of S. 23 passed the House with 93 votes.  The odds of getting 100 votes for a veto override seems a little more likely to me than on H. 107. 

Education Committee Bills:

Literacy Bills: We are working on several literacy bills right out of the gate. We have heard from parents who have felt underserved by their school districts, in relation to their students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities. We have also heard from the VT NEA, several school administrators as well as experts in the field. This is an important and controversial topic. Additionally, it ties into the (relatively) recently passed Act 173. I want to make sure we are tying these literacy bills back to the implementation of Act 173, and not to silo these conversations. We have heard some encouraging testimony from districts that are working to deploy improved multi tiered systems of supports (MTSS) but also some very discouraging anecdotal data from parents and students who have felt left behind when it comes to literacy. The descriptions of the emotional hardships experienced by students with reading levels significantly below their peers are truly striking. 


Universal PreK Bill:

We are working on a bill that is attempting to clean up and clarify rules surrounding Vermont's Universal PreK program, originally created by Act 166 of 2014. The current system is working in many ways, but is inherently challenge by the realities of the "mixed-delivery" system. This means that UPK is offered in public schools, as well as private childcare centers. There are different requirements for teacher licensure in the public and private program, and there is shared administration and oversight between the Agency of Education and the Agency of Human Services. Additionally, there are fundamental challenges to hiring licensed early educators in the private programs, due to the prevailing wages. This is an incredibly important topic, and it's important to recognize how beneficial this program has been, notwithstanding the complications involved.