MONTPELIER -- The Vermont House on Tuesday passed a bill allowing child care workers to unionize and the Senate approved a measure to crack down on drugged driving, as conference committees met throughout the Statehouse to work out final deals on legislation.
Uncertainty continued to grow, though, about whether lawmakers would reach their scheduled adjournment for the year this weekend, as differences remained between the House and Senate on bills ranging from the state budget to medicating some patients with mental illness against their will.
A marquee issue in the House on Tuesday was the measure allowing home-based child care operators with 12 or fewer children in their programs to form a union to negotiate with the state over subsidies given to many of the families they serve.
The House voted 78-59 to send the measure to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has indicated he supports it.
Opponents said the Democrats controlling the legislature had failed to appropriate enough money for child care subsidies, then hoping to take campaign contributions from a union that would organize child care providers to demand higher subsidies.
Speaking of union dues paid by child care workers, Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport, said, "You know where that money’s going to go? To support those of us who beat our chests and tell us we have failed those families and children, so we should surrender to union negotiators our constitutional duty" of appropriating sufficient funds for child care subsidies. Kilmartin called that "absurd."
Supporters said it was simply a matter of allowing child care providers to decide their own fate.
"What this bill does is allow them to vote whether to unionize," said Rep. George Till, D-Jericho. "Our traditional appropriation process has failed these businesses over and over and over again. We should let them decide whether to try a different approach."
The bill contains an agency fee provision allowing any union that organizes child care workers to negotiate for contract language requiring non-member child care operators to pay a portion -- lawmakers estimated 75 to 85 percent -- of regular union dues for representation in collective bargaining.
The Senate’s passage of the "drugged driving" bill came after it removed language saying a driver could be in violation if found under the influence of a drug "to the slightest degree."
Lawmakers have struggled to come up with a parallel to the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content for being deemed drunk behind the wheel. There’s been broad agreement there is no similar objective standard for being impaired by drugs.
The language was in the version passed by the House, which likely means another conference committee fight.