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Family leave bill set back by committee vote

State House Bureau

January 31. 2018 10:53PM

CONCORD — Supporters of a bill to create a paid family leave insurance plan for New Hampshire workers were disappointed on Wednesday when the House Commerce Committee voted 11-9 along party lines against the idea, with all Republicans on the committee opposed.

The committee vote came less than a month after the full House voted 183-151 in support of the measure.

After the House action, the bill, HB 628, was referred to the Commerce Committee for further consideration, resulting in the negative vote.

The bill now has to go before the Finance Committee and back to the full House.

The plan 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.

Commerce Committee member Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, said the program as designed would not be sustainable.

“The bill came to us to look at from the business and insurance aspect, and unfortunately we discovered that based on its design, this bill does not look sustainable,” she said. “Money coming in from premiums would not cover the cost of claims.”

Democrats on the committee said a proposed amendment increasing the employee contribution level to 0.67 percent of wages and reducing eligibility from 12 weeks to six would address those concerns.

“The Division of Employment Security has run the analysis and concludes that by adopting the amendment the program would be sustainable down to a 50-percent participation rate,” said Rep. Edward Butler, D-Harts Location. “We feel that is sustainable and critically important for our economy to compete for workforce.”

Butler said the amendment would be offered when HB 628 comes back for a vote in the full House.

State Rep. Mary Gile, D-Concord, who has worked on a family medical leave bill for years, still sounded hopeful.

“This bill is ready for prime time,” she said. “It has all the details worked out that are necessary to know at this time. It will go to the Finance Committee, back to the House and to the Senate to be worked on further. The details Rep. Sanborn is concerned about will be addressed.”

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