(Montpelier) – Governor Phil Scott has appointed Lisa Senecal to serve on the Vermont Commission on Women (VCW), the state’s non-partisan commission working to advance rights and opportunities for women and girls.
“Lisa’s background and commitment to raising awareness for issues of importance to women, and leadership in advocating to advance opportunities for women will be a tremendous asset on the Commission and for its important mission,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I thank Lisa for her willingness to serve in this role, and as a leader in Vermont.”
Ms. Senecal is a marketing and communications professional and small business entrepreneur. A fourth-generation Vermonter, she attended Norwich University as a civilian student. It was there that she developed her voice as a women’s advocate, being one of only a few women in most of her classes – an experience she considers invaluable both personally and professionally. She has launched and run three successful small businesses including an award-winning children’s entertainment company and a New Media issue advocacy consulting firm. Today, she divides her time between large-scale event management, writing with an emphasis on issues of particular importance to women, and communications consulting.
The mother of two teenaged sons, Ms. Senecal has been volunteering in her sons’ schools for more than a decade, serves on the Board of Trustees for the Stowe Education Fund, recently concluded work leading a year-long study on the viability of converting public schools to independent schools, leads fundraising initiatives for a variety of organizations, and served on the board of the Community Health Services of Lamoille Valley.
At the end of this year’s legislative session VCW was placed on the new 8-member Spousal Support and Maintenance Task Force, created for the purpose of reviewing and making legislative recommendations to Vermont’s alimony laws. Task Force members include legislators, judges, family law attorneys, one representative from Vermont Alimony Reform and one from Vermont Commission on Women (VCW). As well as collecting research and information, VCW will present voices and stories of Vermont women on this issue.
As alimony is awarded in only 10% of all divorces in the United States, we know that this will be difficult to accomplish! That is why we are seeking help. We’re looking for women (nationally 97% of alimony recipients) who are willing to share their stories about receiving or paying alimony in their Vermont divorce:
- Maybe they put their spouse through medical school or law school.
- Maybe they were a full-time homemaker and parent, providing considerable flexibility to a working spouse by facilitating early mornings and late evenings, last-minute meetings, and business travel, and thereby contributing to the earning power and career advancement of their spouse.
- Maybe as the stay-at home parent, time away from their careers resulted in lost income, opportunity, and career advancement.
- Maybe they were victims of domestic violence and face diminished earning capacity as a result of missed career or educational opportunities, or are dealing with physical or emotional health ramifications as a result of domestic violence that impact their ability to work and support themselves.
- Maybe they had agreed to be the full-time homemaker, and now have no work experience, and alimony prevents them from sliding into poverty.
- Maybe there wasn’t sufficient property available to provide a just and equitable division.
- Maybe their health or physical or mental disability reduces their ability to work and support themselves, or maybe they are caring for a child of the marriage with a serious physical or mental disability that requires extra care and supervision.
- Maybe they pay out alimony to an ex-spouse who fits the descriptions above.
There will likely be two public hearings where we would need to generate participants who could speak about their experience as a recipient or a payor of alimony. We can also present personal stories anonymously through written testimony. There will be participants present in favor of reforms, like termination of maintenance upon co-habitation or remarriage; prohibitions on spousal maintenance post-retirement; and retroactive changes to existing orders, as well as firm guidelines as to the amount of maintenance to award, the duration of the payments, and criteria for early termination of those payments. Anyone willing to share their story can do so here, or by contacting our staffer Our staffer Hannah Myers at email@example.com or 802-793-9434.
The Task Force must present legislative recommendations by December 1, 2017 to the Senate and House Judiciary committees aimed to “improve clarity, fairness, predictability, and consistency across the State in recognition of changes to the family structure in recent decades”. This Task Force sunsets March 1, 2018. As an aside, the legislation that created the Task Force included new non-binding statewide alimony amount and duration guidelines as one of eight factors for judges to consider.
Learn more about bills pending and new laws passed by the Vermont legislature that have an impact on women
NEW LAWS PASSED
Accommodations for Pregnant Employees (H.136/Act 21)
Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s pregnancy-related condition, unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
This law closes a gap in current state and federal employment law to ensure workers experiencing healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies are entitled to reasonable accommodations under the law when required. This law extends the same legal standards currently applied to individuals with disabilities regarding reasonable accommodations to individuals experiencing pregnancy-related conditions, regardless of whether the pregnant individual qualifies as an individual with a disability. Pregnancy-related conditions are defined as conditions caused by or related to pregnancy, or childbirth. The law specifies that a pregnancy-related condition does not necessarily constitute a disability.
Employers must post a Vermont Department of Labor notice of employee rights regarding this law in a visible space within the place of business.
Signed into law by the Governor on May 4th, 2017; effective January 1st, 2018.
Read the text of this law here
Domestic and Sexual Violence (H.74/Act 44)
Creates a new misdemeanor lewdness offense for effective prosecution in response to a recent supreme court decision; eliminates the statute of limitations on prosecutions for sexual assault and extends the statute of limitations for sexual exploitation of children; creates a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights; modifies existing family law.
This law allows prosecutions for sexual assault to be pursued and commenced at any time after the commission of the offense, thereby eliminating the statute of limitations. It also modifies the statute of limitations for prosecutions for sexual exploitation of children, allowing actions to be commenced within 40 years after the commission of the offense. Currently, the statute of limitations for sexual assault is 40 years, and is currently six years for sexual exploitation of a child.
This new law creates survivors’ rights for sexual assault survivors after disclosing they have been assaulted to a law enforcement officer, emergency department, sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE nurse), or a victim’s advocate. It gives survivors the right to no-cost medical forensic exams delivered to a forensic laboratory within 72 hours of collection, regardless of whether the survivor reports the assault to law enforcement. It creates a right that the collection kit be preserved without charge for the duration of the maximum statute of limitations, and that responsible personnel inform survivors of evidence found as a result of the kit so long as the disclosure would not compromise an ongoing investigation. It also creates a right to receive information about these rights, policies, protections, and services available.
The new law prevents non-custodial parents from inheriting from a child conceived by sexual assault after the Court has terminated their parent-child contact under 15 V.S.A. § 665(f).
The law also updates the existing statute governing Relief From Abuse orders, bringing it in line with current practices and the current court form by expressly allowing judges to order that defendants not contact plaintiffs in any way, directly, indirectly, or through a third party, including by electronic communications.
Signed into law by the Governor on May 23rd, 2017; effective on passage, Survivor’s Bill of Rights and statue of limitations modifications effective July 1, 2017.
Read the text of the law here.
Encouraging Savings by Participants in Reach Up and the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (H.326/Act 29)
Increases the asset limit in the Reach Up Program from $2,000 to $9,000 for determinations of initial and continuing eligibility; creates an exemption for amounts deposited into education savings accounts for the purposes of eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program.
Retirement accounts and qualified child education savings accounts will not be considered in the calculation for determining the asset limitation for potentially eligible families, and earnings deposited in a qualified child education savings account shall be disregarded in determining eligibility for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program.
Signed into law by the Governor on May 10th, 2017; effective July 1st, 2017.
Read the text of the law here
Modernized Vermont’s Parentage Laws (H.502/Act 31)
Creates a Parentage Study Committee to examine and provide recommendations with regard to modernizing Vermont’s parentage laws in recognition of the changing nature of family.
The Committee will study parentage laws and determine how the laws should be updated to address various issues that have arisen in other New England states and have come before the courts, including assisted reproductive technology and de facto parentage.
Signed into law by the Governor May 10th, 2017; effective on passage.
Read the text of the law here
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (S.95/Act 68)
Revises the purpose and procedures of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Board; requires collaboration to improve access to SANE nurses; requires emergency department personnel receive SANE Program training, and creates a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Study Committee.
This law creates a specialized Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification to be issued by the SANE Program, revises the purpose of the existing SANE board to advising the SANE program on statewide priorities, training and educational requirements and a standardized sexual assault protocol and kit to be used throughout Vermont, and slightly modifies the composition of the board.
This law requires the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and the Vermont SANE program to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) before September 1st to improve access to SANE nurses for victims of sexual assault. The law also requires the SANE program to provide all emergency room staff in Vermont with annual training regarding standards of care and forensic evidence collection.
Finally, this law creates a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Study Committee to conduct a comprehensive examination of issues related to sexual assault evidence kits, which shall issue a report by November 1st, 2017.
Signed into law by the Governor June 8th, 2017; effective July 1st, 2017.
Read the text of the law here
Spousal Support and Maintenance Task Force (S.122/Act 60)
Creates a Spousal Support and Maintenance Task Force to review and make legislative recommendations regarding Vermont’s spousal support and maintenance laws; adds guidelines regarding the appropriate amount and duration of spousal maintenance to existing family law.
The study committee will consider laws to improve the clarity, fairness, predictability, and consistency across the state in regards to spousal maintenance, and will be made up of legislators, judges, representatives of the Vermont Bar, a representative of the Vermont Alimony Reform group, and the Executive Director or a designee of the Vermont Commission on Women.
The law adds guidelines in the form of a table as an eighth factor for judicial consideration in determining whether to award spousal maintenance, the amount, and duration based on the length of the parties’ marriage and incomes.
Signed into law by the Governor June 5th, 2017; effective immediately.
Read the text of the law here
BILLS IN PROGRESS
Paid Family Leave (H.196)
Proposes to develop a statewide family leave insurance program for public and private sector employees in the state for pregnancy, birth, adoption, placement of a foster child, and the serious illness or injury of the employee’s close family member.
The maximum duration of the paid benefit is up to 6 weeks with a compensation of 80% wage replacement up to a cap of twice the livable wage as defined by the Joint Fiscal Office (approximately $1,040 per week in 2017). To receive the benefit, employees must be employed for at least 12 of the previous 13 months, and have a qualifying reason for taking leave. The bill does not propose to cover an employee taking leave for their own serious illness or injury.
The insurance program with be funded by a .141% payroll deduction; the program is paid for by employees, but employers may elect to contribute all or a portion of the cost.
Bill Status: Passed by the House, currently in the Senate Rules Committee
Read the text of the bill here
Removal of Firearms from a Person Arrested or Cited for Domestic Violence (H.422)
Proposes to allow law enforcement officials to temporarily remove firearms from persons at the time of arrest or citation for domestic violence and would ensure that those weapons are returned to the owner as soon as doing so would be safe and lawful.
The bill would allow, but not require, law enforcement officers to remove firearms if they determine removal is necessary for the protection of the officer or another person. The firearm must be returned within five days of the removal after requested unless it is or may be used as evidence in a pending criminal or civil proceeding, the court orders relinquishment of the firearm pursuant to abuse prevention (15 V.S.A. Chapter 21), or the person requesting the return of the firearm is prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.
Bill Status: Passed by the House; Read for the 1st time in the Senate and referred to Committee on Judiciary
Read the text of the bill here
In January 2017, a bill (H. 136) was introduced in the Vermont Legislature that would ensure healthy pregnant workers in Vermont receive reasonable workplace accommodations such as having access to water, access to a stool or a chair, longer or more frequent restroom breaks, or avoiding heavy lifting. This bill was signed into law at the end of the legislative session!
Read VCW's testimony on H.136 here.
Read VCW’s press release, New Protections for Pregnant Workers here.
Read VCW's policy brief for more information about these protections.
Find A Better Balance's rundown of state action here.
Find National Women's Law Center’s fact sheet here.
Tuesday, April 4th was Equal Pay Day. Throughout the nation, women’s organizations observe Equal Pay Day each April, symbolizing how far into the new year the average American woman would have to work to earn what the average American man did in the previous year due to the gender wage gap.
Events at the State House included an Equal Pay Day “Women and Leadership” Press Conference at 12:00 in the Cedar Creek Room.
Advocates for equal pay at this press conference addressed the gender wage gap and unveiled Change The Story's new “Vermont Women and Leadership” report. Change The Story is an initiative of the Vermont Commission on Women (VCW), the Vermont Women’s Fund, and Vermont Works for Women designed to fast-track women’s economic status in our state. The report reveals new data about participation of women in various leadership roles in Vermont, including federal, state and municipal government, Abenaki Nations, academia, law enforcement, and the corporate and non-profit sectors. By some measures, Vermont is a national pacesetter in its share of women in key leadership positions. By others, women’s leadership status lags behind other states. Overall, Vermont women have yet to achieve equal representation as leaders in any but a few political, civic or professional realms.
The press conference featured: Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, State Treasurer Beth Pearce, Vermont Tech President Pat Moulton, Melody Brook of the Abenaki Women's Council and VT Commission on Native American Affairs, Joe Fusco of UVM's Grossman School of Business and VP at Casella Waste Systems, Jen Kimmich Co-founder/Owner of The Alchemist, and VCW Executive Director, Cary Brown. Members of Women’s Caucus of the Legislature, the League of Women Voters of VT, VT Federation of Business and Professional Women and others were present. Advocates wear red to symbolize women being “in the red” due to the gender wage gap on this day. Read the new report here and learn more about this event by reading the press release here. Watch a video of the Equal Pay Day Press Conference here.
Additional Equal Pay Day events included:
Equal Pay Day Resolution | Link to: House Concurrent Resolution 97, a resolution recognizing Equal Pay Day
Equal Pay Day Proclamation Signing | 11:30 AM | Governor’s ceremonial office. Read the proclamation here.
Equal Pay Day Facebook Event Page link here.
Sharing Senator Bernie Sanders' Equal Pay Day statement here.