MONTPELIER — Weeks of compromise and an unplanned power outage paid off for efforts to pass an unemployment benefits bill in the Vermont Senate on Tuesday.
The Senate passed S. 10, a bill providing for a deferral in unemployment insurance tax rate hikes and aid to unemployment claimants with dependent children, by a roll call vote on second reading. A formal third reading is planned for Wednesday.
Among the area delegation, Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham voted yes, along with Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, and Sen. Brain Campion, D-Bennington. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, voted no.
The bill had included an amendment that would increase unemployment benefits by 20 percent a provision that drew vocal opposition from state business associations. But the 20 percent increase was dropped as part of a compromise.
Friday, Balint was in the process of trying to reframe the debate, which had grown contentious, when strong winds knocked out power to the Statehouse.
Tuesday, she said that wind was “an act of God saving us from ourselves.” And she finished the thought she started Friday: that the compromise reached by members of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs was hard-won, and worth supporting.
“We have had to do the hard work to get to a place we could agree. And we have done so because we care deeply about the issues at the heart of this bill, and we care deeply about the people served,” said Balint, who sits on the committee.
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, was among members speaking in opposition. He said the current experience of the state pension system, in which chronic underfunding over 17 years led to significant unfunded liability, showed the dangers of putting fiduciary responsibility behind immediate needs. While supporting the aim of helping families, Benning said he was comfortable that “federal dollars coming our way will protect them.”