As we get closer to the end of the 2019 session, pressure is building to get bills through the Legislature. The goal of the House and Senate veto-proof Democrat majority, (which includes me), is to get their five top priority bills through the legislative process and onto the governor’s desk by the end of the session.
All five bills revolve around efforts to grow a strong economy and workforce, focusing on Vermont’s rural economy and addressing the challenges of those who are struggling to care for themselves and support their families.
Following is a brief description of these weighty and complex bills that are of such critical consequence to the growth of Vermont’s economy.
H.107 establishes a paid family leave program funded by a payroll tax. Employees would receive 12 weeks of parental leave or eight weeks of medical leave. While on leave, they would receive 90 percent of their weekly wages if they make at or below the Vermont livable wage, which is currently $13.34 per hour.
S.23, the minimum wage bill, would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. Increasing the current minimum wage of $10.74 over the next six years would result in pay raises for nearly 90,000 Vermonters – many of them household breadwinners and single parents. These gradual wage increases over six years will give Vermont businesses time to plan and adjust.
H.531, the child care bill, invests more that $10 million towards the goal to make child care more accessible and affordable for families. Currently there is a shortage of high-quality, affordable spaces for infants and young children.
H.513, the broadband bill, would provide more funding for broadband development, particularly in Vermont’s rural areas. The money would come from a half-cent increase in a fee levied on every phone bill in the state. A fast, reliable connection to the internet allows rural areas to grow economically.
S.96, the clean water bill, creates a framework for providing water quality services, but fails to specify a funding source. Between $8 and $10 million in new revenue needs to be raised for long-term funding of cleanup efforts. Currently the House Ways & Means Committee is considering a wide range of tax sources.
In addition, we still need to tackle other key measures, such as abortion rights, cannabis regulation, two cent fuel tax hike, waiting period for gun purchase, plastic bag ban, and many others.
But being that this is the first year of a two-year biennium, any bills that aren’t passed before adjournment will get a second chance in 2020. That relieves some of the pressure to get bills passed this session. Many will be put on the back burner to await next year.
Before closing, and with a heavy heart, I wish to inform you of the loss of a fellow House member. Bob Forguites died unexpectedly three weeks ago at the age of 80. Bob served three terms in the Vermont House representing the Springfield district. Bob took me under his wing in my first year as state representative showing me the ropes. He was a wonderful mentor and good friend. I, and many, many others will miss him sorely.
Rep. Tom Bock
Andover, Baltimore, Chester, and N. Springfield