NH House labor panel green-lights family and medical leave bill

Measure heads to House floor next week

The NH House Labor Committee voted to approve establishing a family and medical leave insurance program after amending it to better line up with a similar FMLI bill expected to pass the Senate on Thursday.

Both bills would impose a mandatory 0.5 percent payroll deduction on private employees to fund 12 weeks of leave, at 60 percent of their pay, to care for themselves or family members. Both programs don’t require that employers pay for the benefits, though employers could pay the employee’s share or set up their own program that meets or exceeds the state’s. Both bills would also bid out administration of the program to a private third party administration.

House Bill 712 also was amended to include state workers and limit the adjustments that the state Department of Employment Security could make in the size of the deduction or amount of benefits to 10 percent. Both were additions recently made in the Senate.

The only major difference now is that the Senate version, Senate Bill 1, extends federal protections of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, mandating that employers hold the job open of an employee who takes the leave, from firms with more than 50 workers to firms with 20 workers or more. The House bill sticks to the 50-employee federal limit, though both bills have non-retaliation language that would make it more difficult terminate an employee taking paid leave.

There is also a slight difference in how to cover public employees.

The House bill requires that state employees be included in the program, though who would pay what share of the payroll deduction would have to be resolved at the bargaining table. The Senate bill simply requires that FLMI be part of contract negotiations, though that doesn’t mean that it will happen.

The House bill also requires FLMI be part of any county, school or municipal contract negotiation. For those political subdivisions not represented by unions, either the employer or employee could opt in. The Senate bill doesn’t address subdivisions.

Burden or benefit?

HB 712 is practically a mirror image of the Gov. Chris Sununu’s FMLI proposal, which would offer to cover state workers but allow private employers or employees to opt in.

However, under the governor’s plan, a private insurer could raise rates for smaller employees or those without 100 percent participation. Details of the governor’s plan – devised with Vermont Gov. Phil Scott – are scarce, however, since it depends on contract negotiation and the response to a request for proposals.

The House Labor Committee passed an FMLI insurance program last year, and the full House passed it three times, at time when they were controlled by Republicans. However, that bill had a voluntary opt-out provision, which Sununu claimed would make it unsustainable. With his opposition, the bill died in the Republican Senate.

Now that Democrats control both chambers and proposed a mandatory program, all Republican committee members opposed it.

“It will be a burden on small business,” said John O'Day, R-Rindge, noting that companies with only two employees would be forced to provide leave. He said the cost to administer the program would also be “a burden.” 

But for Rep. Manny Espitia, D-Nashua, the bill would help small companies that can’t offer the benefits of large businesses. “If you are a bakery and you only have a few employees, this is a chance to offer something,” he said.

“It’s for young people who want to raise their families in New Hampshire who needs young people who want to raise their families here,” said Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham, the committee’s chair. “I see it as a workforce development program.”

The full House is expected to vote on HB 712 next week.

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