Legislative Update 4/21/2015

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Apr 21, 2015 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

Vermont State HouseThis past week we debated S.141 an act relating to firearms. It came from the Senate to my committee.

Some argued that we don’t have a gun violence issue in Vermont. The testimony I heard was very compelling that in fact we do. The facts about gun deaths in Vermont reveal a disturbing fact: Vermont has a much higher gun death rate than most people believe.

For 2013 Vermont had a gun death rate of 9.2/100,000, only a bit below the national average of 10.4/100,000. Vermont consistently has a higher gun death rate than New York, New Jersey and most of the New England states. Vermont’s firearm death rate is double the rate in New York and almost 3 times the rate in Massachusetts.

56% of Vermont’s adult domestic violence related homicides were committed with firearms.

Ninety percent of Vermont gun deaths are by suicide. We have the highest teen suicide rate in New England. Suicide by firearm claims on average 60 Vermonters per year.

I explained my vote as follows:

“Mr. Speaker: My yes vote is for the victims and families who have suffered losses due to firearm related domestic violence and suicide; to give law enforcement the tools they are asking for to enhance the public safety of the changing culture of Vermont; and to put Vermont on a strong constitutional footing for those who seek to restore their 2nd amendment rights.”

As Justice Scalia wrote, “the rights under the 2nd Amendment are not unlimited, and it should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.” S.141 puts restrictions on gun ownership based on sound public safety policy grounds.

 

S.9 Child Protection: we are continuing our work on this bill that was the result of a study committee formed after the tragic deaths of children in DCF custody. House Human Services Committee made a number of changes to the bill as it came from the Senate. We are trying to address what is the best way to protect children. There is concern that just focusing on a new crime isn’t enough.

My committee is looking at the standard regarding the mandated reporting of child abuse. State’s Attorneys, the Attorney General’s office, DCF, victims and others agree that more clarity is needed to improve reporting and prosecution.

 

H.187: Earned Sick Leave/Supporting Working Families: Congratulations to Randy George, of the Red Hen Baking Company for being selected to speak at the White House as a “Champion of Change” for working families. Randy remarked: “Our 42 employees are the core of everything we do – the heart of Red Hen. That is why my wife Liza and I insist on providing paid sick days, an equal and livable wage, health coverage, and other benefits that help everyone balance the work they love with the life they lead. Through these workplace policies, we know we’re making our employees more secure, our bakery more productive, and our business more profitable.”

The “Healthy Workplaces” Bill, H.187, up for action this week, supports working Vermonters with the modest ability to accrue up to three paid sick days each year. For every 40 hours worked, employees earn one hour of earned sick time. Eligibility includes all permanent workers, whether full time or part time. These hours can be used for personal illness, the illness of a family member, or seeking protection from domestic and sexual violence.

The proposal includes a 1400-hour or one year – whichever comes first – waiting period before employees can access this benefit. Working full time, the 1400 hours would be equivalent to eight months of work. Once employees surpass the 1400 hour mark, they earn the hours accrued within that initial time period. Two years after implementation, the amount of annual paid time that employees can earn would increase to five days. This is regardless of previous employment status under the initial phase of the bill.

Employers who currently offer any type of paid leave will be minimally affected as long as this time off can be used for unscheduled illness or safety concerns for themselves or their family. For example, if an employer offers five days of vacation time, reclassifying it to five days of combined time off (CTO) will put them in compliance. A separate sick time policy is not required. The bill is a minimum standard and employers are free to offer additional paid time off as part of their existing benefit package.