Senate, as expected, kills family leave billBy Dave Solomon
State House Bureau
April 26. 2018 3:15PM
CONCORD — The state Senate voted along party lines to kill a paid family and medical leave insurance program that had passed the House in three separate votes, but was opposed by Gov. Chris Sununu.
The 14-10 vote on Thursday to send HB 628 to interim study effectively kills the idea for this session. A new bill would have to be introduced in 2019, and state Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, predicted that one will be brought forward.
“Hopefully my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will be willing to roll up their sleeves and actually work on this,” he said after the vote.
Sununu had expressed support for the concept of a paid family leave program during the campaign and gave the sponsors of HB 628 some cause for optimism as the bill was being debated.
In the week before the bill came up for Senate committee review, however, he issued a letter in opposition. The program as proposed called for payroll deductions except for those who opt-out. Sununu said he would like to see a detailed financial analysis of a bill that would establish a program on an entirely opt-in or voluntary basis.
“The financial questions have to be answered. It starts with an actuarial analysis of what a voluntary program would look like,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “There’s been no voluntary program in any other states. That’s the starting point, so we can understand the financial dynamics.”
During the Senate debate, Democrats focused on the personal stories of families who could have benefitted from family leave, provided by the lobbying group Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy.
The group on Wednesday released a story album, New Hampshire Voices on Paid Family and Medical Leave describing the personal experiences of people across the state.
All 10 Democratic senators spoke in support of the policy and read several of the stories aloud from the album.
“The family situations are compelling,” said Bradley. “No one is arguing with that, but no one is willing to put this as a burden on employers or a general fund expenditures, and until the analysis is done, it’s premature.”
The Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy plans to keep the concept alive until it can be revived in the next session, according to spokesperson Amanda Sears.
“We’re not going away and we’re not giving up,” she said.
Greg Moore, state director with Americans for Prosperity, applauded the Senate vote.
“Government interference in labor markets is not the New Hampshire way,” he said. “Not only would this bill have challenged our state’s values of limited government and economic freedom, it was bad policy.”
AFP-NH has been at the forefront of opposing HB 628 and recently launched a digital campaign thanking Sununu for opposing the measure.
Supporters of the bill place the blame for its demise on Sununu.
“Gov. Sununu assured working families that he would support family and medical leave insurance and ease the incredible burden of being a good parent and a good employee,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield,
“However, in the 11th hour the governor caved to the wishes of special interest groups and corporate donors, and ordered Senate Republicans to torpedo this popular piece of legislation.”
The Senate also adopted a floor amendment rewriting House Bill 1415, which called for a death benefit for a school employee killed in the line of duty.
The death benefit was removed and replaced with an appropriation of $10 million to the Public School Infrastructure Fund to improve security in public schools. The amendment passed in a 14-10 party line vote, with all Republicans voting in favor.
“Adopting this floor amendment is a proactive way to prevent gun violence in schools,” said Senator Harold French, R-Franklin. “While the underlying bill was a noble cause, it was purely reactionary and did nothing to keep our children safe. I encourage my colleagues in the House to concur with our adopted changes.”