Message from Montpelier, Feb. 13, 2020

Dear Editor,

It’s been well over a month since I returned to the Statehouse to serve the second half of the 2019-20 biennium as your representative in the Legislature. It was great to get back – greeting colleagues, discussing issues, and settling in for the remainder of this term.

On the very first day of the session, Democratic leaders renewed their pledge to continue their work to strengthen the economy and make Vermont more affordable for working families.

We are feeling the pinch of a shrinking workforce and an aging population. Currently in the state, there are about 55,000 fewer people under age 45 and 44,000 more over age 65 than there were in the year 2000. To keep up with expected retirements and job growth, Vermont will need 10,000 new workers each year. Although unemployment is down, we need to grow our economy and workforce.

The Legislature started off by reintroducing two major leftover bills from the 2019 session. Establishing a statewide family leave program and increasing the minimum wage are critical pieces in recruiting and retaining a workforce. Both pieces of legislation would attract young people and support working Vermonters.

A big disappointment was the failure of the Paid Family Leave bill H.107 to pass into law. The bill would have guaranteed up to 12 weeks of paid parental or bonding leave and up to eight weeks to care for family members – to be funded by a 0.2% payroll tax on Vermont workers.

The bill passed in both the Senate and House but was vetoed by Gov. Scott. Days after Scott’s veto, the House was unable to override his veto. The override required a two-third majority vote in the House, but only received 99 in favor of overriding to 51 against. The bill was defeated by just one vote!

The other top priority issue – raising the minimum wage – is considered an important step in addressing income inequality. The 2020 version agreed on by the Senate and House leadership would increase the current minimum wage of $10.96 to $11.75 in 2021, then to $12.55 in 2022. Passing the bill into law is not without risk. There are concerns that a wage increase could harm small businesses and put stress on the economy.

But supporters of the bill, myself included, say that raising the wage will attract more workers to the state and help younger workers stay in Vermont. It will give our approximately 40,000 minimum wage workers a much-needed raise. If you are a full-time worker working at minimum wage over these next two years, you will receive $5,000 more in wages.

The bill was passed by both Senate and House and delivered to Gov. Scott to be either approved or vetoed. The governor chose to veto. Now it’s up to the Legislature to override Scott’s veto with a two-third majority.

As always, I welcome any questions, opinions, thoughts, and concerns you may have on any legislative issue. You can contact me at tbock@leg.state.vt.us or tmbock@vermontel.net. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Rep. Tom Bock

Andover, Baltimore, Chester, and N. Springfield

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