• Capitol Beat: Better baby bonding and scratch tickets for energy
    January 28,2013

    Expectant moms and dads could be in line for some unexpected time off if a bill introduced in Montpelier last week grows any legs.

    Dismayed by the tribulations of new parents with limited financial means, Sen. Ann Cummings wants to make it a little easier to bond with baby. To that end, she’s offering legislation that would require employers to provide new moms and dads with 15 weeks paid parental leave.

    As the bill states in its preamble, “Dramatic social and economic trends have brought about a significant increase in the number of families in which both parents work.”

    “Time to bond with new children stabilizes society by allowing parents time to care for a new child, form strong emotional bonds with the new child, and establish a secure system of child care,” the bill says. “Providing time to bond with new children assures that working people have a real, rather than an illusory, right to care for and bond with their children.”

    Cummings said she’s too familiar with stories of women going back to work just a couple weeks after giving birth, often because they lack the financial resources to take advantage of the 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave guaranteed by federal law.

    Cummings said that means new families not only suffer interruptions to already chaotic nursing and sleeping schedules, but also have to add childcare expenses to the household budget.

    According to the bill’s findings, one-quarter of people living in poverty saw their financial deterioration coincide with the birth of a new child.

    “There are some real societal costs to pay when we don’t allow new parents to be new parents, and a very short-term investment in a new family, I would argue, is going to be well worth the cost,” said Cummings, a Washington County Democrat.

    Bill Driscoll, vice president of Associated Industries of Vermont, says his group doesn’t object to longer paid parental leave. But he said it’s part of a compensation package that should be negotiated by workers and employers, not imposed on them by the state.

    Cummings’ bill envisions paying for the program with a “Paid Parental Leave Fund,” financed by a payroll tax on employees. She said she’s open to other options.

    Driscoll said that even though it’s targeted at workers, the funding mechanism could have an adverse impact on the balance sheets of businesses.

    Commissioner of Labor Annie Noonan said she has yet to review the bill or discuss it with the governor’s office. Cummings introduced an almost identical bill four years ago, but says sometimes these things take time.

    “You just keep putting it in,” she says. “Sometimes it takes time for an idea to catch on.”

    Scratch for energy

    A coalition of energy and environmental groups says it’s happy with Peter Shumlin’s plan to fund weatherization and renewable-energy subsidies. For now.

    Shumlin Thursday outlined a budget proposal that included $12 million to weatherize Vermont homes and $5 million for the Clean Energy Development Fund. He said he wants to support the new investments by imposing a 10 percent tax on the sales of the “break open” lottery tickets — a sort of unregulated cousin of the scratch-off tickets found in local convenience stores.

    “These investments are a critical step towards addressing the enormous opportunity we have to save Vermonters money, slash global warming pollution, and create jobs by moving towards efficiency and renewable energy,” the groups said in a release.

    But Shumlin’s budget address notably did not include any of the financing recommendations in a recently released report from the Thermal Efficiency Taskforce. The report, which said Vermont will need to raise $276 million over the next seven years to meet the goal of weatherizing 80,000 homes by 2020, called for an excise tax on heating oil and tax credits for people who fund their own home weatherization projects.

    Shumlin’s appropriation won’t come close to putting the state on pace to meet that goal. And the coalition gently, softly and politely seemed to indicate that the governor ought to consider a more robust funding source in the future.

    “While ultimate success will require additional resources, this proposal sets clear direction that Vermont is committed to helping families and businesses save money and energy, and to tackling the issue of climate change,” the group said.

    The coalition includes the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (Efficiency Vermont), and Renewable Energy Vermont.

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