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Change proposed to rescue family medical leave bill

State House Bureau

April 18. 2018 9:06PM

CONCORD — In an attempt to rescue the House-passed family medical leave bill from certain death in the Senate, Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, has introduced an amendment that attempts to address the concerns raised by Gov. Chris Sununu and other opponents of the legislation.

The amendment was introduced in the Senate Finance Committee and voted down in a 4-2 party line vote on Tuesday, but Democrats urged Sununu on Wednesday to take a second look and reconsider his opposition to the bill, HB 628, before the full Senate vote.

The bill, which passed the full House on three separate occasions, calls for a 0.67 percent wage contribution from employees, who can choose to opt out of the program. After qualifying, a worker would get 60 percent of average wages for up to six weeks, with a minimum benefit of $125 a week, for qualifying events like the birth of a child.

Sununu last week wrote a letter urging the Senate Finance Committee to reject the bill, citing what he called cumbersome opt-out procedures that involve a notary, and questions about the financial stability of the proposal.

The amendment introduced by Feltes would erase the requirement of a notary to opt-out, allow for additional opportunities to opt-out, and allow for the insurance industry to be involved in the administration of the program.

It would also authorize New Hampshire Employment Security to form a working group to seek additional advice and input from experts, with the authority to raise or lower the employee contribution to ensure stability.

Citing “ever-evolving and oddly inconsistent input and testimony from your state agency officials,” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, also handed Sununu a formal right-to-know request for all communications between the governor’s office, and agency personnel at New Hampshire Employment Security or the New Hampshire Insurance Department.

“Please also provide a list of any and all registered (or non-registered) lobbyists or special interests that you or your staff have met with or talked with about House Bill 628, and the topics and dates of those conversations,” wrote Woodburn. “The public has a right to know how and why you have decided to go back on your campaign commitment to support family and medical leave insurance.”

Sununu’s spokesman, Ben Vihstadt, said the governor supports an opt-in program.

“The governor’s office has been available and in constant communication with the advocates since last summer. The governor himself has spoken multiple times with key supporters of the bill trying to find a viable solution,” he said. “Gov. Sununu supports a true independent actuarial analysis of an optional paid leave program for New Hampshire so that moving forward we can ensure that any program created would be there for those who would come to rely on it.”

The Senate Finance Committee voted along party lines on Tuesday to recommend the proposal to interim study.

The momentum against the bill continued to build on Wednesday, as the commissioners of Insurance and Employment Security, Roger Sevigny and George Copadis issued a joint statement: “While there are structural improvements to the bill that the Legislature could make, without an independent actuarial analysis of an optional paid leave program, the departments cannot certify to the Legislature or the governor that the paid leave program created by HB628 would be solvent, and thus be there for program participants who had come to rely upon it.”

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said the House bill will likely be taken up by the full Senate next week.

“The amendment that was proposed in the committee shows exactly why I don’t think (the bill) works at this point,” said Morse. “Everything in that amendment attempted to address all the questions that were asked, but when you have to draft the amendment to fit the questions, I don’t think that’s a good way to build legislation like this.”

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Thank you, Sununu