House revives leave bill, one of many returning battles

After little debate Wednesday, the state House of Representatives approved a mandatory family and medical leave bill similar to the one Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed last spring. Sununu is promoting a new version of his voluntary leave program that offers employers a business tax credit if they provided the benefit.

CONCORD — In 2019 the Democratically-led state Legislature spent months fine-tuning and then passing a mandatory family and medical leave bill.

On Wednesday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives spent 10 minutes.

But the result was the same as the House passed this latest version, 215-141.

And the ending for this one (HB 712) is likely to be the same as in 2019.

Gov. Chris Sununu and his allies have branded this edition the same form of an “income tax” leave benefit he vetoed last spring.

The measure would require all private and public employers to give their workers 12 weeks of paid leave to care for themselves or for a loved one.

During the leave period these workers would receive 60% of their income.

“Family and medical leave insurance is critical public policy aimed at addressing our state’s caregiving needs, helping New Hampshire become more attractive to a younger workforce, and assisting Granite Staters trying to recover from substance use disorder,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord.

“Today’s vote shows that House Democrats are continuing to prioritize delivering a family and medical leave insurance program for New Hampshire citizens.”

House Republican Leader Dick Hinch of Merrimack said government should not be mandating benefits for workers that free market employers could offer to attract employees.

“They have taken family and medical leave hostage, and the ransom is an income tax,” Hinch said.

“It’s unfortunate that they will not work with the governor to get a plan in place that gets the job done without siphoning dollars from everyone’s paychecks to pay for it.”

Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said other proposals have been offered and the employee and employer payroll tax payments are only one of several ways to pay for the benefit.

Feltes is a declared Democratic candidate for governor in 2020.

The House has another mandatory family and medical leave bill it will consider later this year.

Meanwhile, Sununu has reworked a voluntary leave bill that Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, is authoring.

Sununu made several key changes to this plan to make it more desirable to be sold on the insurance market for private employers and for individuals who want to buy it on their own.

The biggest change is Sununu gets rid of offering the benefit to workers who are out sick.

As drafted, it’s available only to mothers who are caring for a child during the first month of birth, or for someone who is caring for a sick relative or who is needed at home because a family member has been deployed in the military overseas.

Sununu said the medical leave provision is not necessary because workers with health care insurance get short-term disability at work.

To encourage private employers to offer this benefit, Sununu proposed they receive a tax credit from the Business Enterprise Tax that equals 50% of the premiums they pay to provide the coverage.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Sunday, February 16, 2020