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Washington-Chittenden: Waterbury, Bolton, Huntington & Buels Gore

Evidence Should Allay Fears Over Cost of Earned Sick Days Bill

March 24, 2014

reptomstevens

Here is a link to this article on Vermont Digger. Co-written with Jen Kimmich, co-founder of The Alchemist, this column is meant to lay out, in broad detail, the disconnect between the evidence found in researching Earned Sick Day bills across the country and found in surveys done in the state and municipalities that have enacted similar legislation, and the fears promulgated by opponents of the bill.

As a business owner and a state legislator, we are both supporters of the earned sick days bill, H.208. We know that many business owners have spoken out in favor of such a protection because they see it as the smart — as well as the right — thing to do. We know it lowers turnover costs and boosts productivity. We know that having sick employees is bad for our business and for public health. We understand that this bill will enable thousands of parents to take care of their sick family members in times of need.

Although a majority of working Vermonters support the earned sick days bill, H.208 has been met with strong opposition. Small business owners, many of whom struggle to make ends meet, are understandably concerned about anything that sounds like it could increase payroll expenses. Strong lobbying efforts have been put forth to stop this bill in its tracks and unfortunately, during this process, misguided fears and concerns have arisen and halted this bill which would help ensure the wellness and financial stability of more than 60,000 working Vermonters – roughly 20 percent of the workforce.

A growing body of evidence should put to rest lobbyists’ predictions of doom. Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, opposed the first paid sick days bill in San Francisco, but later told a business reporter that it’s “the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?” The current director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce testified in committee hearings this year that concerns raised by Vermont’s business organizations were voiced in his city, too, but that seven years after implementation, earned sick days have had no adverse effect on his members.

There is clear evidence that earned sick days legislation is good policy for working families, the economy, our business climate and public health.

In addition, just released research from Connecticut, the only state thus far to enact an earned sick day law, found that “the concerns articulated by many business associations that the law would impose heavy burdens on employers and invite worker abuse turn out to have been misplaced.” Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said the law had led to no change or an increase of less than 2 percent in their overall costs.

There is clear evidence that earned sick days legislation is good policy for working families, the economy, our business climate and public health. Moreover, there is broad support for the earned sick days law in Vermont among small business owners. However, opponents continue to manipulate the facts in a way that does a disservice to the vast majority of businesses who already offer this benefit, and a larger disservice to those most in need of this legislation — our lowest wage earners.

We have heard that a rise in the minimum wage will accomplish quite a bit for the same people who would benefit from the ability to earn sick time. This is true. But those without paid time off will continue to suffer the same stress and poverty they do now without the flexibility to take any time off to manage essential health care. H.208 will provide instant relief to tens of thousands of working Vermonters. The bills are both necessary and inextricably linked.

We can’t and won’t let misinformation and misguided fear dictate what we do in Vermont. We’ll continue to fight for earned sick days because it’s the right thing to do for workers and families and also because it’s the right thing to do for our economy.

Quick Town Meeting Wrap Up

March 6, 2014

reptomstevens

As far as major issues were concerned, the towns of Waterbury, Huntington and Bolton passed everything put before them — all municipal and school budgets passed, a bond to increase the fresh water supply at Harwood passed and the bond to fund a new municipal office building and library passed.

Each of these issues must now await the thirty day rescission period. Rescission, for Australian ballot measures, is the bane of progress in Vermont. I agree wholeheartedly with keeping it for votes off the floor, but the required process for Australian ballot issues means that there are no surprises on voting day, you vote on what was warned, and that should be that. Rescission, as it has been used in Waterbury, is a “two bites at the apple” weapon that has been abused in the past. It is, in my opinion, an antidemocratic tool when applied to Australian balloting. Strong words, I know, but it is completely disrespectful of the process the community goes through to develop plans and bonds to pay for them, sometimes over a year, only to have it win (perhaps) by narrow vote questioned and voted again by a rescission vote.

I am happy that we passed all of our school votes, in all three towns. This was a tough year, which followed a tough year, with our education finances. It is clear that the system will need to be adjusted to acknowledge the difficulties we are facing, namely the large increases in tax rates when the districts are keeping their budgets spare. While it is easy to say that the Great Recession is still playing a role (with our mostly level property values over the past four years), it is also playing a role in keeping the common level of appraisal even. But the situation isn’t that simple. Our role in Montpelier will be to find an adjustment that works, while not dismantling our excellent public school system.

We must be careful to not overreact…the number of budgets voted down were the highest in ten years, but nowhere near the most in one year. There are still 19 towns left to vote their budgets, and we expect a couple of them will reject the budgets the first time through.

And we must be careful not to celebrate the passage of the bond in Waterbury. Many of us see it as another step in the road to recovery from Irene, which means it has not been easy. Our tradition of rescinding votes is one of drudgery, but one that has been marked with hope. The margin of victory on this vote was substantial, and the selectboard and the building committee did their job in presenting an affordable project, made more so with a $1 million grant from CDBG-DR. If April 4th comes and goes without a petition to rescind, we can break out the champagne and then get to work raising the money necessary to pay for it. If we must vote again, we must do it before we lose the grant.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to making our democracy as powerful and messy as it is. We have a special brand of it in Vermont, and I am so very lucky to be able to witness the wonderful variations of it in Waterbury, Huntington, and Bolton.

The Golden Dome in Black and White

March 6, 2014

reptomstevens

The Golden Dome

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