January 09. 2018 11:35PM

NH House Roundup: House OKs family leave insurance, defeats conversion therapy ban

Union Leader News

CONCORD — The New Hampshire House on Tuesday voted 183-151 to create a paid family leave insurance plan, in the hope of retaining young working families and as a new tool in the battle against opioid addiction.

Opponents said the bill is unnecessary and will impose unanticipated costs on the state. It now goes to the House Commerce Committee, and will ultimately have to clear the Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu.

“This is another unneeded social scheme and a financial disaster in the making,” said Rep. Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington.

Brian Stone, R-Northwood, said the state is facing major workforce and demographic challenges, which a family leave program could help to address.

“We have a major demographic problem in our state; young people aren’t staying here,” he said. “This bill is a win-win. It creates a voluntary program and it costs the employers nothing. Let’s show the country that New Hampshire has a family-friendly economy.”

The bill, HB 628, calls for a 0.5 percent wage contribution from employees, who can choose to opt-out of the program by filling out a form and having it notarized. After qualifying, a worker would get 60 percent of average wages for up to 12 weeks, with a minimum benefit of $125 a week.

Qualifying events would include birth, adoption or fostering of a child; or the serious illness of a spouse, civil union partner, child, parent, grandparent or in-laws, as defined by the federal Family Medical Leave Act and includes treatment for addiction.

Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, a big proponent of the bill as it moved through the House, is optimistic about its prospects in the Senate.

“I think the chances are reasonably good,” he said. “This is a strong bipartisan vote recognizing that finally moving forward with family medical leave insurance is critical to combating our opioid epidemic and attracting a younger workforce.”

Sununu has said in the past that he favors the concept of paid family medical leave, but has not taken a position on this specific bill.

Conversion therapy ban

The House deadlocked on two bills that would ban gay conversion therapy, requiring House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, to cast tie-breaking votes that defeated both bills.

Supporters of the ban argued that conversion therapy is a harmful, sometimes abusive, practice designed to change a young person’s sexual orientation or identity.

Opponents argued that parents have the right to seek whatever therapy they deem necessary for their children, and that abusive forms of conversion therapy have not been reported in New Hampshire.

The House bill (HB 587) failed by one vote, 166-165, after Chandler cast the tie-breaker.

The Senate version (SB 224) was defeated 170-169, again requiring Chandler’s vote to break a 169-169 tie.

The House also:

• Voted 180-165 to kill HB 592, designating 100 percent of funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to rate relief. Current practice is to rebate 80 percent of the revenue from the program restricting carbon emissions from power plants to ratepayers, with the balance to energy efficiency projects, so that remains in place.

• Voted 173-171 to pass HB 317, forbidding the Public Utilities Commission from imposing charges on electric bills, known as the system benefit charge, that subsidize energy efficiency projects for low-income households without legislative approval. Democrats pushed for reconsideration, but lost 181-164

• Voted 177-134 in favor of HB 287, creating a commission to study the decriminalization of sex work in New Hampshire, despite strong opposition and an anticipated veto from Sununu.

• Approved by voice vote a bill by Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, to create a state-based Department of Military and Veterans Services to “have one office dealing with the myriad of issues” that affect veterans.