MAKING PAID LEAVE POSSIBLE FOR ALL VERMONTERS: Here are the things we, as legislators and politicians of all stripes say: We want to attract young people to the state. We want Vermont to be affordable. We want to help people who are on the financial edge of our benefit cliffs. We want more children to be born, and to be healthy, and to be ready for school. Here is what else we know: we have an aging workforce, we are living longer and we have family members who are trying to age in their own homes. We have family situations where more and more grandparents are assuming parenting and care duties of their grandchildren.

I believe H.196 addresses these concerns in fundamental ways. It proposes to enhance Vermont’s existing Parental and Family Leave Act (and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act) by adding a financial component to an employee’s right to take leave under certain criteria. These can include the birth of a child and the immediate time after for bonding and/or dealing with any medical emergencies, or time needed to take care of a family member. Studies from other states have shown and increased productivity and job loyalty from those who have used it to keep themselves and their families healthy and well kept.

The proposal allows for six weeks of paid leave at 80% of an employee’s gross salary at the cost of .141% of an employee’s income. This can be combined with unpaid leave, or leave funded by combined time off, if the employee has any. The total combined leave cannot exceed 12 weeks. The benefit is capped at the net equivalent of twice the livable wage ($1,042 in 2017).

The legislation passed in the House and now under consideration in the Senate. When we pass Paid Family Leave into law, the State will be able to offer working Vermonters a benefit that is both compassionate and sensitive to the needs of young families and families taking care of their elders.

EQUAL PAY: It’s time we rewrite the rules so that women’s work and contributions are fully valued.  Women in Vermont are paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual wage gap of nearly $8,000.  The practice of having to disclose one’s current salary only reinforces the pay gap by gender or race in our state. H.294 prohibits an employer asking a prospective employee this question prior to making a job offer. By eliminating this practice, we expect salary equity to become the new normal. We clarified that employers can still ask for salary expectations and still post salary ranges.

GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION: Children should not be afraid to go to school and parents should not be afraid to put their children on the bus. We must be safe in our homes, our neighborhoods and at work, without the constant threat of gun violence hanging over our heads. I believe support for the 2nd Amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping the guns out of the hands of dangerous people. In early March, I voted in support of a gun violence prevention package that has critical parts: 1) It would put current practice into law which gives the judge discretion to require any individual who is a risk to themselves or others to turn over weapons as a condition of pre-trial release, 2) Empowers a State’s Attorney or the Attorney General’s office to petition a court to issue an order temporarily restricting a person’s access to guns when they pose a danger to self or others (commonly called a ‘Red Flag’ bill, the Senate passed a different version),  3) Provides protection to a victim of domestic assault by allowing a law enforcement officer, in certain circumstances, to remove a firearm from the scene if the removal is necessary for the protection of the officer, the victim, or another person, and 4) Creates a felony charge for the possession of a firearm on school grounds with intent to harm.

The House will continue to work on gun violence prevention measures. In addition to the Senate bill which includes universal background checks and raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21, we’ll be looking at adding measures such as bump stock bans and limits on magazine clips.

Hardworking families are the heart of our community. I will be their voice in Montpelier.