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Paid Family Leave Bill Among Scott’s Vetoes

Published: 5/23/2018 12:08:02 AM
Modified: 5/23/2018 12:08:10 AM

Montpelier — Gov. Phil Scott set the stage for the special legislative session with four vetoes on Tuesday, rejecting bills that raise the minimum wage and establish paid family leave.

Lawmakers are due to reconvene in Montpelier today.

The vetoes did not come as a surprise.

Scott has adamantly stuck to a pledge not to increase taxes and fees — a principle at the heart of a stalemate with lawmakers over the state budget and education financing, and the driving reason for the special session.

The paid family leave bill, H.196, proposes funding the program through a 0.141 percent payroll tax on employees. The initiative was a key priority for the House, but only gained momentum in the Senate in the final weeks of the session.

In a message accompanying the veto, Scott asserted it is “simply not responsible” to impose the new tax and that the bill understates the costs associated with setting up the program.

The governor also returned a bill to lawmakers that would raise the minimum wage from $10.50 per hour to $15 per hour by 2024.

Proponents of the bill, S.40, argue that increasing the minimum wage will spur economic growth. However, Scott warned of a veto months ago and has adamantly opposed the measure.

In a five page letter explaining his veto, Scott charged that the proposal is “bad economic policy” that fails to address a cliff when people who rely on benefits begin to earn more money and suddenly lose financial supports. The measure, he argued, will burden small businesses and disproportionately hurt some communities.

He also vetoed S.197, which would require polluters to pay for medical monitoring — a measure crafted in the wake of water contamination in the Bennington area, once the home of a major Teflon manufacturing plant.

Scott said the bill creates uncertainty for employers which would have negative economic impacts. In his message to lawmakers, he included recommendations to tailor the legislation.

S.105, a measure that aims to protect consumers from abusive contracts, also got a veto. Scott wrote that the bill would hinder the liability waivers used by organizations and nonprofits, make Vermont less competitive with other states, and harm Vermont businesses that work online.

The vetoes send the bills back to the Legislature. While Democrats have sufficient seats to override in the Senate, they do not in the House.

Largely for this reason, legislative leaders declined to schedule a veto session, when they could attempt veto overrides. They could reintroduce the bills in the special session, but would still need Scott’s approval for them to become law.

A spokesperson for Scott did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

Scott’s vetoes on Tuesday bring the total number of bills he has returned to lawmakers during his first biennium in office to eight.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, is the only other modern governor to have so liberally applied his veto powers.

Scott’s decision this week on the measures drew condemnation from Democratic and Progressive legislative leaders and advocates.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said in a statement it is “unfortunate” that Scott did not back the paid family leave bill, which she said “will grow our economy and attract young families.”

“Unfortunately, the Governor today ignored the needs of working families and vetoed a bill that would sustain Vermonters against hard times,” Johnson said.

Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, called the governor’s veto of the minimum wage increase a disappointment on “economic and moral grounds.”

“Increasingly, the Governor’s affordability slogan seems to mean ‘affordability for those who can already afford it, and the rest of you are on your own,’ ” Ashe said in a statement on social media.

Advocacy groups including Main Street Alliance and the State Innovation Exchange also slammed Scott’s vetoes.

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