“My committee did more this year than we did any other year since I was elected,” Moran said. “We had bills on the floor on a regular basis.”
The equal pay bill, which was signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin three days after the close of the session, ensures more than just equality in compensation. The bill also guarantees the right to request flexible working arrangements and guarantees both fathers and mothers rights to attend to family responsibilities.
Moran says the equal pay provision will help close the compensation gap between men and women in the same job. “On average, women earn 86% of what men do for the same job in Vermont,” Moran says. “And we’re better than the national average which is 78%. Under the new law, if someone is not paid the same as a co-worker for the same job, there has to be a strong reason, like a difference in training or experience.”
The bill includes protections for employees who ask co-workers what they’re paid, or tell their co-workers what they’re paid. “Sometimes there’s strong pressure not to talk about what people get paid. You don’t have to tell, but if you do, employers can’t retaliate.”
Several labor-related provisions were also passed through the committee. One requires non-union member employees who take advantage of union services to pay a fee. “If you’re in a situation where there’s collective bargaining and you’re not a union member, you have to pay a fee for representation.”
But Moran says it isn’t a backhanded way of forcing union membership. “You don’t have to join anything you don’t want to join,” he says, “and you’re only charged for services in your interest. It’s prorated, and not on the full percentage of union dues.”
Another new labor law allows certain home care providers to unionize. Until the law, home health care providers were treated like independent contractors, hired by individuals, even though many are paid by the state. “The way it’s set up, the state tells the patient they can hire someone for 10 hours per week, and the state pays the provider directly. This legislation creates the ability for a union to negotiate providers’ pay with the state.”
The committee also worked on a bill that would allow deputy state’s attorneys to unionize. Deputy state’s attorneys are in a situation similar to that of home care workers – they’re paid by the state but hired by the elected state’s attorney. The bill, which hasn’t been passed by the Senate, would allow deputies to engage in collective bargaining with the state. “We talk about the need to be a business-friendly state,” Moran says. “One of my mantras is that we also have to be a worker-friendly state. You can’t have one without the other.”
Other labor-related lawmaking included guarantees that employees will be paid for the hours they’ve worked. Moran says the bill “pierced the corporate veil,” pinning legal responsibility for paying employees on the person at the company who makes payroll decisions, rather than on the corporate entity. “A lot of times businesses that are running out of money or have cash-flow problems start paying their creditors and let employees go for a week or two. There were situations where employees didn’t get paid for three or four weeks, then the business closed its doors. We tightened that up – if you run a business, you have to pay employees.”
Turning its attention to military matters, the committee passed a bill that established qualifications for adjutant general, the state’s top military position, as well as an election process. Moran says that the issue was prompted by the recent appointment process in which Gen. Steven Cray was selected. In the past, there have rarely been any opposing candidates for the adjutant general position, but this time there were three, including a South Burlington resident with no military experience who was in opposition to the siting of F-35 fighters at a nearby base.
“Now you have to have a military rank,” Moran said.
The military bill also addresses the issue of sexual harassment in the military. There has been a military-wide problem with sexual harassment, as well as issues regarding the reporting, investigation, and punishment of sexual harassment incidents. Under the Vermont law, the adjutant general must report any kind of sexual harassment or abuse, including harassment or abuse related to sexual identity or orientation, in an annual report to the Legislature.
The Legislature also passed a number of landmark bills this session, including the decriminalization of marijuana possession. Moran, a drug and alcohol counselor, voted in favor of the decriminalization. “In my view, (marijuana use) is a public health issue, not a criminal issue,” he said. “The whole war on drugs is a farce. It’s a politicized process that doesn’t deal with any of the real problems. As a professional, I want to work with people to help them if they have a problem. We need to be able to sit down and work out a sensible policy on drugs and alcohol overall. Criminalizing the behavior of people is not a good idea.”
The Legislature also passed a controversial “death with dignity” bill, providing for a process through which some people who are suffering with terminal illnesses can choose to end their lives. Moran voted against the bill, but not because of religious conviction. “I think there are times when the Legislature doesn’t belong in a situation,” he says. “Anyone has a right to make a decision about whether to continue their life or not. The problem with the law is it limits the choice. The criteria are specific, but it opens the door to people encouraging people to take their own lives.”
This year’s transportation bill also created controversy, raising the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel for on-road use about 6 cents. Moran says he voted for the bill, although he’s sympathetic with the opposing viewpoints. “It has an element of being regressive,” he says of the fuel tax. “It hits equally across the board, and it’s harder on people with lower incomes.”
But Moran said the state needs transportation infrastructure improvements, and the fuel tax raises the money for repairs and construction on the users of the state’s transportation system – including visitors and commercial carriers using the state’s highways. “It hits everyone using roads and bridges in Vermont,” he says. “All things being equal, I think it was necessary. If we let the state’s roads and bridges go any longer, it’s only going to cost more to fix them.”