Opinion: Family leave bill a must for business

This upcoming legislation session, Vermont lawmakers will again have the opportunity to create statewide policy that will benefit everyday working Vermonters as well as the many small businesses that employ them. Thanks to the strong work of the House and Senate this past legislative session, paid family and medical leave insurance nearly became law. Over the summer and fall, the call for this policy from workers and businesses alike has only grown stronger, and the legislature is primed to move forward. 
As a small business owner in Vermont, the passage of a strong paid family leave bill is my priority this year. A statewide paid family leave program will allow all small businesses in Vermont to offer this important benefit and increase the competitiveness of the state’s small businesses to attract and retain talented workers. I know from experience: we’ve offered paid family leave at Stonecutter Spirits since day one, and we’ve found it to be an important benefit and a strong recruiting tool. By passing paid family leave statewide, we can differentiate Vermont while growing in thoughtful and meaningful ways.  
Over 90 percent of working Vermonters are employed by small businesses. We are proud to be a small-business state, we will likely always be a small business state, and that can be a unique strength. It also comes with challenges in how we think about the nature of employment, and we need to address these challenges with smart policies that help workers and small businesses thrive together. We need policies like paid family and medical leave insurance to lead the way.
Vermont is also leading the charge, nationally, in reforming healthcare with forward-looking payment models that emphasize successful health outcomes rather than the amount of health services performed. Paid family leave benefits have been shown to improve short-term and long-term health outcomes for newborns. By introducing a statewide benefit, we’ll be improving the lives of everyday Vermonters while also positioning them for longer-term success.
All of us in Vermont, regardless of political affiliation, generally share the same goals: we want to grow our local economy and keep our families and communities healthy and thriving. Many small business owners want to offer paid family leave to their employees, but can’t on their own. A statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program will eliminate this dilemma across Vermont, protecting our citizens and improving our local economy.
We can’t solve these issues if we fail to act, or if we act with half measures like New Hampshire’s proposed opt-in system. These so called “voluntary” proposals are doomed to fail from the start, and therefore don’t offer what small businesses and working families need. 
The creation of a statewide family leave program will support workers while helping level the playing field for small businesses and entrepreneurs as we start and grow our businesses. We all have a stake in ensuring that our next generation has a bright future. This policy will help us achieve our common goals and ensure future generations can thrive.
Sivan Cotel is co-founder of Stonecutter Spirits in Middlebury and Highball Social in Burlington. He is on the Board of Main Street Alliance of Vermont, a statewide network of small business owners.

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