Governor Phil Scott recently rolled out a new plan for a voluntary paid family and medical leave program, but some Democrats in the State House say more can be done for Vermont families.

At a legislative summit led by Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and House Speaker Jill Krowinski, policymakers and advocates pushed for a universal family leave policy, saying it would better fit the needs of Vermonters.

And Gray says a paid family leave should be at least 12 weeks.

“The Governor’s proposal, it only has 6 weeks of paid leave,” Gray said. “I don’t know a lot of parents or new mothers who are ready to go back to work after 6 weeks.”

Cary Brown, the executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women, says women spend a disproportionate amount of time in unpaid caretaking. Wage replacement rates should be higher so workers can afford to take a leave of absence.

“We do know from experiences in other states that longer leave times, higher levels of wage replacement, job protection, these are all things that really go towards an effective, useful plan,” she said.

Krowinski says a universal family leave program would help families already struggling to find affordable child care in Vermont.

“When you hear about parents having to drive 50 minutes having to drop their child off to childcare, having to bring their child to work because they don’t have access at home, this is an issue that impacts everyone in our state,” Krowinski says.

Paid leave will likely be a key issue in the upcoming legislative session, which is scheduled to start January 4. Gray said she expects lawmakers to submit a proposal that will advance the goal of a universal program.

In a statement, Scott defended his plan, saying it accomplishes many of the same goals, without relying on mandatory payroll tax.

The Governor and his team look forward to engaging with colleagues in the Legislature on the merits of the Governor’s paid family and medical leave plan. We believe our approach accomplishes many goals we share with lawmakers, providing universal access to this important benefit, while also offering greater flexibility, avoiding one size fits all mandates, and not relying on a mandatory payroll tax on all Vermonters. One thing that Vermonters have made abundantly clear to the Governor over the years is that they are taxed enough already.”