Report for the Legislature: Going into overtime

Rep. Mike Yantachka

The legislative process is both deliberate and deliberative. Bills do not get passed without a considerable amount of testimony from stakeholders on every side of an issue and discussion among the members of a committee comprised of Republicans, Democrats, Progressives and Independents. Bills that are introduced are often modified significantly by the time they are voted out of committee and sent to the floor for consideration by the entire body of either the House or the Senate. Once the bill gets to the other chamber, the process is repeated. So, a lot of thought goes into a bill to ensure that it is a solid piece of legislation that accomplishes the purpose intended.

That is why, after hearing the rhetoric that he wants to protect the most vulnerable Vermonters and improve affordability, it is disappointing that the governor has decided to veto four bills that address those issues. Two of the bills, S.103 and S.197, would protect Vermonters from misuse of toxic chemicals and hazardous materials. The first would create an Interagency Committee on Chemical Management to evaluate chemical inventories in the state, identify potential risks to human health and the environment, and propose measures to address those risks. It also would require testing for potability of new water sources used for human consumption. The second would require businesses responsible for exposing employees or the public to toxic materials through intentional or unintentional releases to cover the cost of medical monitoring of exposed individuals. The PFOA contamination of the public water supply in the Bennington area demonstrates the need for such legislation to protect the health of Vermonters.

Two other vetoed bills, S.40 and H.196, directly address affordability concerns for low- and middle-income Vermonters. S.40, the minimum wage bill, would gradually increase the minimum wage in Vermont to $15 per hour over six years. This bill would assist more than 25,000 minimum-wage adult nonfarm workers who often have to work more than one job to make ends meet. It would also have the benefit of putting more money into the local economy at the same time. The other bill, H.196, is the paid family leave bill. This bill would create a statewide insurance program that would allow an employee to take up to 12 weeks to care for a child or other family member during critical times of need, including childbirth, prolonged illness and emergency situations. The program would pay 70 percent of the employee’s average weekly wage and would be financed entirely by a 0.137 percent tax on employee wages. For a full-time, minimum-wage worker, this would be 58 cents per week, or about 5.5 cents per week for every dollar per hour. This is a crucial benefit that smaller employers often cannot afford to provide but guarantees that some income is available during times of crisis or family necessity. If we want to make Vermont attractive for working families, raising the minimum wage and addressing flexibility for families to take care of each other are necessary.

As always, I can be reached by phone at (802) 233-5238 or by email.