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House reaffirms its support for family medical leave law

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

February 08. 2018 9:11PM




CONCORD — Supporters celebrated victory Thursday as the House of Representatives passed a paid family leave insurance program 186-164, with 23 Republicans joining a united Democratic caucus.

“It’s time to get to ‘yes’ on this bill,” said Rep. Mary Gile, D-Concord, who has worked on a family medical leave bill for years.

She cited public opinion polls showing popular support for the idea and the endorsement of businesses in the state.

“This is a unique New Hampshire program that is viable, sustainable and will be there for New Hampshire working families in times of medical and family need,” she said. “It will also be an incentive to help employers bring the best and most talented workers to New Hampshire.”

Opponents said the bill, even with amendments, creates an insurance program with no guarantees that the premiums paid by participants will generate enough money to pay claims, leaving state taxpayers on the hook.

The plan originally called 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; it also includes treatment for addiction.

The bill has since been amended to increase employee contributions to 0.67 percent of wages and reduce eligibility from 12 weeks to six.

Those changes will not ensure the plan’s solvency, according to Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford.

“This is an incredibly bad gamble for the state and the people we are trying to help,” she said. “If we don’t get enough participation, the math won’t work; the money won’t be there; and all of you will have to pay for this.”

The measure passed the House despite the opposition of Republican leadership. Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, warned of the costs to introduce and administer the program.

“This legislation will cost New Hampshire $14 million, not currently budgeted, just to develop the software to implement it, and ongoing expenditures to support 45 new employees in the Department of Labor,” he said.

The vote on HB 628 came less than a month after the full House voted for the first time 183-151 in support. The bill was then referred to the House Commerce Committee, which recommended against passage. That recommendation was overturned on Thursday.

The bill still has a long way to go, as it now heads to the House Finance Committee for further consideration, and a third House vote before going to the Senate if it clears those hurdles.

Gov. Chris Sununu has not endorsed this bill specifically, but expressed support for family medical leave insurance during his campaign for governor.

If the bill is signed into law, New Hampshire would join California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York as the only states with state-run family leave insurance programs.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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