New Hampshire House panel OKs a new family and medical leave bill

New measure contains some changes, but Republicans still oppose it

The New Hampshire House Finance Committee voted Tuesday for another mandatory paid family and medical leave insurance program, similar to the one vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu earlier this year but with a few tweaks in response to some objections from business.

House Bill 712, like the vetoed Senate Bill 1, would impose a 0.5% payroll deduction on all private employees in order to provide workers with 60% of their wages if they take up to 12 weeks off in order to care for themselves or a family member. Employers could pay the premium for their workers, allow them to pay for it, or come up with their own program, as long as it the benefits are matched.

In May, Governor Sununu vetoed SB 1, instead proposing forth a voluntary program to be negotiated with state employees and allowing private employers to buy into it. But that program also failed to materialize.

HB 712 differs from the bill Sununu vetoed in a few areas:

  • The vetoed bill had a “sustainability mechanism,” similar to such bills passed in other states, allowing the Department of Employment Security to adjust the premium rates as needed. Critics complained that this would give an unelected official the power to raise “taxes.” HB 712 as amended would only allow the commissioner to lower the rates, not raise them.
  • The vetoed bill would extend federal Family and Medical Leave Act protections to companies with over 20 employees. The House bill passed Tuesday keeps those protections at 50, as they are under the federal law, although there are anti-retaliatory provisions in the bill for anyone who fires someone for taking leave.
  • The new bill spells how the program would pay back the general fund for its startup funding of $3.5 million in the first year and $12 million during the second. Under the amended bill, the program will start paying it back in three years, with 10%, another 30% percent in the fourth year and the remainder in the fifth year.

Republicans were not mollified.

“I don’t see anyway this could be solvent,” said Rep. Werner Horn, R-Franklin, who claimed it would take 27 years of premiums to pay for a benefit.

But Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, said that is true of any insurance program. She pointed to several studies, including one done by the Department of Labor based on other programs, that indicate the program is sustainable.

“This isn’t an insurance program, this is a racket,” Horn said.

Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, also argued against the insurance analogy for another reason. Part-time workers pay into the program, but then don’t work enough hours to qualify for the benefits, she said. As for the payback provisions, she said, “A loan sometimes is not a loan.”

The committee passed the bill, 13-7. The full House is expected to vote on it in January.

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