House Commerce Committee turns down paid family leave

On another party-line vote, proposal fails to win panel’s endorsement

Despite President Trump’s nod to paid family leave on Tuesday during his State of the Union address, the House Commerce Committee the following day killed a bill to start such a program in New Hampshire, on an 11-9 party-line vote.

Republicans insisted that House Bill 628 was not workable in New Hampshire, casting aside testimony from the state Department of Labor that it was financially viable at an expected 70 percent participation rate among workers, and even if only 50 percent did.

The problem, said Republicans, is that estimates were based on polls and on states where paid leave is mandatory, whereas New Hampshire would allow employees to opt out of the program.

To better ensure viability of the system, supporters, at the Labor Department’s suggestion, offered to increase the size of premiums – all to be paid by employees, unless employers wished to subsidize the payments – from half a percent to two-thirds of a percent of wages, as well as cut the benefits from 12 week to six. (They would receive roughly 60 percent of their wages during the leave time.)

But Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford. said it wasn’t enough.

“The design of this bill does not look sustainable,” she said. “The premiums would not cover the cost of claims.

Rep. Ed Butler, D-Harts Location, reiterated that the DOL’s estimate, which he said was “more conservative than necessary,” ensured the program would work. Besides, Butler said, a state-sponsored family and medical leave program would be “important to attract a workforce that is crucial to the economy.”

“We need to increase our workforce by 10,000,” added Rep. Mary Gile, D-Concord, who has been pushing for a family leave program for the better part of two decades. “This is a viable way to increase it.”

From here, the bill will be headed to the House Finance Committee before returning to the full House, where it has already been approved.

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