Thursday June 25, 2015
South Burlington Representative Helen Head was recently presented with the 2015 Kids Count Award by Voices for Vermont’s Children during the organization’s annual Raising Our Voices for Children event. Established in 1983, Voices for Vermont’s Children is a statewide membership organization supporting advocacy, outreach, and community organizing on behalf of Vermont’s children and youth.
As chair of the Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs, Representative Head has overseen numerous bills improving housing and workplace standards, issues that have a significant impact on family well-being. She has also personally sponsored legislation to benefit children and families, including school breakfast program expansion, childcare subsidy increases, tightening of lead paint regulations, and the proposal of a work and family commission to explore policy solutions for working parents. But it was her stewardship of this year’s paid sick days legislation that was highlighted with the presentation of the Kids Count Award.
Representative Head was the lead sponsor of the original paid sick days bill in 2006 that launched the statewide conversation on the issue. In 2014, a version of the bill was voted out of her committee, but never made it to the floor for a full House vote. “It was heartbreaking. No one working on the campaign this year wanted to experience that again,” said Voices for Vermont’s Children staff member Michelle Fay, who was a State Representative at the time and coordinated the paid sick days campaign this year. Fay credits Representative Head’s calm determination and careful handling of the bill to its ultimate passage in the House this year.
“Representative Head is someone I think of as an unsung hero in the House, steadily working on issues that impact large segments of the population, but not often in the spotlight. The Kids Count Award is meant to honor exactly this sort of public service on behalf of kids.”
The legislation aims to establish a minimum standard of earned sick days that can be used by full and part-time workers in Vermont to recover from illness or care for a sick family member. Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking may also use the benefit to pursue avenues to safety for themselves and their children. An estimated 60,000 working Vermonters currently do not have access to any paid time off. With about three quarters of Vermont children living in families where all the adults work outside the home, access to paid leave is critical to ensure that kids can stay home and get well, which studies show they do more quickly when cared for by their parents.
The bill phases in the new standard to allow businesses to adapt and prepare. For the first two years of the law, the standard is set at 24 hours or three days. Then the standard increases to 40 hours or five days. There is a 1,400-hour (or one year, whichever comes first) waiting period during which employees will accrue sick time at a rate of 1 hour for every 40 worked, but not be able to use it. Part-time workers’ waiting period is capped at one year. This waiting period, along with the elimination of seasonal and temporary workers from coverage, helped the bill gain traction with more moderate legislators and the Governor.
The bill passed the House too late in the session to be considered by the Senate this year, but advocates expect that it will be taken up early in the second year of the biennium.
“Presenting Helen with this award is the first step in acknowledging and honoring her work on behalf of kids and families,” said Carlen Finn, Executive Director of Voices for Vermont’s Children. “Passing this critically important bill in the Senate next year and ensuring that working families don’t have to choose between economic security and caring for a sick child is the best way to honor her legacy.”