By Guy Page
After the opening gavel falls Jan. 7 on the 2020 Vermont House of Representatives, the first three items of business (so the current House calendar says) concern the workplace: licensing building contractors, increasing minimum wage and enacting paid family leave.
S.163 – Licensing of building contractors, as well as more state oversight of rental housing safety. The most controversial part of this wide-ranging bill would require paid licensing of most building contractors. Plumbers and electricians must be licensed in Vermont, but not roofers, masons, builders or general contractors. Supporters say it’s necessary to protect customers from unscrupulous contractors. Opponents call it a legislation cannon trying to kill a flea-sized problem. The bill needed three roll calls to pass the Senate. The solons were deadlocked 15-15 on tossing out licensing until Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman voted no and the licensing stayed. The bill also gives the state of Vermont more authority in rental housing and safety, and creates a framework for statewide rental housing regulations and registry.
S.163 has been endorsed by three House committees. But it also faces an amendment by builder and Rep. Mark Higley (R-Lowell) to strike the contractor licensing provisions.
H.351 and S.23 – Minimum wage. The Senate passed S.23 to raise the minimum wage to $15 by $2024. The House agreed to $15 by 2026. The two-year gap proved too wide. No deal was reached before House Speaker Mitzi Johnson adjourned the 2019 session. H.351 was a “compromise” bill that would set the wage at $11.50 Jan. 1 2020, $12.50 a year later, and then annually afterwards by the lesser of the 5% or the consumer-price-index.
Sen. Becca Balint reportedly told VTDigger that House and Senate leaders have been discussing the minimum wage and “we’re going to start the session with a new energy and resolve.” But so far, there has been no public announcement of a deal.
H.107 – paid family leave. Gov. Phil Scott continues to prefer his relatively frugal Vermont-New Hampshire voluntary family leave plan. Last May both Senate and House passed paid family leave bills funded by the payroll tax but (as with minimum wage) found the devil in the details. Both bodies approved time off for childbirth or taking care of a sick relative. But cost-conscious Senate cut the House provision to grant paid time off for an employee’s own injury or illness.
Calendars and agendas are subject to change, of course. But at least symbolically, the June 7 House calendar shows a House ready to tackle workplace-related chores it couldn’t finish in 2019 session.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports at the Vermont Daily Chronicle.