Vermont Family Leave ? Let the State Pay

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - If an employer refuses or can't afford to pay for an employee's parental leave, the state of Vermont might. The state senate's General Affairs Committee voted 5 to 1 on Friday to recommend that the legislature allow all residents, regardless of their employer's benefits program, to have 12 weeks of paid leave when a new birth or adoption occurs. Current law allows for unpaid leave unless an employer chooses to pay.

The plan calls for both the mother and father to each get up to 12 weeks of leave at approximately half pay. The proposal would cost the state an estimated $2.5 million a year for a three-year trial period.

Some legislators had hoped to pay the cost from the state's unemployment insurance program, but that source of funding was rejected by the senate committee. Rather, committee members voted to take the money from the state's general fund.

Supporters contend the proposal will benefit working families.

"All the research has indicated and continues to indicate how important it is for young families to get off to a good start," said Committee Chairman Susan Bartlett. "We have heard truly compelling testimony from young parents about how difficult it is to have a new member of the family and only have a couple of weeks before both parents have to be back at work."

Bartlett said, if the law is enacted, she would continue efforts to take the money from the unemployment fund once the three-year experiment ends.

"We're not fighting against paying the family," according to Betsy Bishop, a spokesman for the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, "but they're trying to take the money out of the unemployment insurance trust fund."

Employers contend the unemployment insurance fund was not meant to pay for a leave program and could be most costly for small business owners.

Other opponents insist the program may be too costly and wonder why it is needed when other leave options already exist.

According to the legislature's Joint Fiscal Office, 98 percent of women with newborn children now take time off from work. However, 39 percent are not paid while 22 percent receive a portion of their salary. Paid workers currently take an average of three weeks off.