It’s been a years-long battle to enact a paid sick leave law in Vermont. The issue came close in 2015, passing the House but failing to survive the Senate. Next year? Bet on it sailing through.
As Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck reports, top Democrats (with the consicuous exception of Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, a PSL skeptic) held a news conference Wednesday at Hen of the Wood Restaurant* to announce that PSL legislation would be on top of their agenda for 2016.
*Nice work if you can get it.
The move was not at all political, no sirree. Just ask declared gubernatorial candidate, House Speaker Shap Smith:
Smith dismissed his political ambitions as a factor Wednesday. “The election has nothing to with it,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Regardless, Smith will be up against other Democratic candidates who support the concept. If he’s able guide the bill into law in 2016, that success will give him a boost in a Democratic primary race where the issue is likely to resonate.
Smith is telling the truth, in the sense that he would support the legislation whether he was running for governor or not. After all, he supported it this year and got it through the House. But a big push in 2016? Of course that’s political.
It’s not just about Shap. All Democrats running for office will want tangible achievements from the 2016 Legislature. With Governor Shumlin already calling for level-funded budget requests, we sure as hell aren’t going to see ambitious new state programs or, say, major progress on fully funding social services or the state psychiatric hospital or reducing higher-education costs. Paid sick leave is a significant marker that will have no impact on the budget.
(John Campbell, who played a key role in derailing paid sick leave in this year’s session, has clearly been brought to heel on the issue. He has promised the bill will get a full hearing, which is Campbellspeak for “I won’t actively oppose the bill, even though I disagree with it.”)
The burden, if any (as the business community will tirelessly remind us), will fall upon the business community. Of coruse, they vastly overstate the size and impact of that burden. Indeed, their arguments are internally inconsistent: they say legislation is unnecessary because so many businesses already offer comparable benefits, while also arguing that legislation would create costly new mandates.
Which is it? Already largely in place, or massive additional burden?
The truth, I suspect, is that most small- and medium-sized Vermont employers do have arrangements that amount to paid sick leave. They’re willing to do right by their workers. But large businesses and multistate employers? The ones who pay the freight for lobbyists and ad campaigns? The Walmarts and McDonald’s of the world? They want to absolutely minimize their obligations, and they certainly don’t want Vermont setting a precedent for mandatory sick leave.
But I digress. The business community will issue their dire warnings, the Republicans will accuse the Democrats of playing election-year politics, and the Democrats will deny it. In a way, they’re telling the truth; paid sick leave is an idea whose time should have already come. But in another way, it’s bullshit: the Democrats will need some cost-free accomplishments for the 2016 campaign.