To the Editor:
I feel compelled to respond to the letter in last week’s Stowe Reporter from Melissa Sheffer in which she falsely accused me of voting against the pregnancy accommodations bill, as this is simply not true.
In fact, I supported the bill as it passed and was signed into law. Even more, I worked with the Attorney general’s office to ensure the bill, which was a very poorly crafted bill as it passed the House, was fixed before final passage.
Indeed, I was unable to support H.136, the Pregnancy Accommodations bill, as it first emerged from my committee and the House of Representatives for a very simple reason: It was an extremely poorly crafted bill.
The intent of the bill was admirable: to ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition if needed.
My years of working for U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords on education and disability policy taught me a great deal about “reasonable accommodations.” The purpose of existing state and federal laws requiring reasonable accommodations is to remove barriers for individuals with disabilities. This is so that a disabled individual can work — can perform the essential functions of a job — and, therefore, enjoy equal opportunities for employment.
H.136, as it passed the House, would have greatly expanded these provisions in law. It would have essentially given pregnant women greater protections than any other employees, including individuals with disabilities.
Under current employment law, reasonable accommodations must be provided to a qualified employee with a disability if it will enable that employee to perform the essential functions of the job. H.136, as it passed the House, didn’t require the reasonable accommodations in order for the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. In fact, it might have even required a wholesale change in the job altogether.
Even more, the bill, as it passed the House, would have required employers of all sizes to provide, potentially, unlimited/indefinite amounts of leave to employees for any condition related to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.
To be clear, I absolutely support the ability of pregnant employees to continue working. But the House version of this bill essentially established a whole new class of worker — a pregnant woman — and would have provided rights to pregnant women above those for any other employee, including individuals with disabilities.
As the bill was being developed, and even after it passed the House, I expressed these very concerns. I even met with the assistant attorney general to share them, and asked that their office help to redraft the legislation to ensure it does not have any of these unintended consequences.
So, I was pleased that, with the help of the attorney general’s office, the Senate realized the failures with the House version of the bill and wrote a completely new version of it. That new version allayed my concerns, and I was happy to support the bill that became law.
Our campaign is exceptionally disappointed in these tactics of using false allegations to smear us. The information is all out there, readily available, and transparent, so there is no reason for this kind of false accusation.
Heidi Scheuermann, a Republican, represents Stowe in the Vermont House of Representatives.