Paid sick leave proposal stands a healthy chance


Lawmakers are finalizing exceptions and clarifications to a proposed mandatory sick leave law.

Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, said her House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs hopes to move an amended H.208 to the House Appropriations Committee soon.

The new version would assure employers that if they already provide at least 56 hours per year of sick leave to full-time workers, they would not have any additional requirements.

H.208 would provide one hour of paid sick leave for each 30-hour work week at businesses of all sizes in Vermont. The time off would begin accruing on the first day of full-time employment. It could be used for employees' own health and safety needs, as well as those of their families.

Sponsored by more than 30 lawmakers, the proposal enjoys strong support even though it faces fierce opposition. Eighty-three witnesses in the past two weeks argued for and against the legislation.

Supporters tout the social and business benefits of offering earned sick time. Opposers say the regulation is unnecessary, inappropriate and poorly timed, and it could be abused.

The primary aim of H.208 is to foster better conditions for public health and personal safety. When people don't have to choose between staying home with the flu or earning enough money to pay the rent, the rationale goes, they are more likely to take care of themselves and thereby limit the spread of illness.

Should it pass the House, the bill would go to the Senate Committee on Economic Development, where Chair Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, has promised to take it up.

Gov. Peter Shumlin kept mum about the bill at a legislative luncheon hosted by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce in Montpelier on Wednesday. Shumlin said he would wait for the bill to be fully vetted by the Legislature before making up his mind about it.

But House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, sounded a slightly different note.

"Even if we do not pass a bill this year, this is probably not an issue that's going away," Smith said Wednesday. "I would like to see us move the issue forward."

If Vermont passes the law, it would follow Connecticut as the only other state to mandate paid sick leave.


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