NH House OKs family medical leave program

Bill creates state-run insurance plan with opt-out provision

The NH House approved a measure creating a paid family and medical leave insurance program on a 183-151 vote, despite warnings that such a program is an “income tax” and “unsustainable” because it wouldn't be mandatory.

House Bill 628 would set up a state-run family and medical leave insurance program, operating similarly to unemployment insurance. The bill would create a fund to pay workers who need to care for a sick relative or child, or to recover from an illness themselves. They would receive 60 percent of their salary for a maximum of 12 weeks.

All workers would pay a half-percent of their salary into the fund, unless they opt out of both the payment and the benefits.

That opt-out provision makes it different from other states that started mandatory paid leave programs, such as California and New Jersey. Under the New Hampshire bill, the employee would have only one chance to opt out. They could however opt in annually.

“This is an income tax disguised as a premium, “ said Rep. Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington.

However the opt-out provision would make it possible for people to game the system, which would make the program an “abject financial failure,” he added.

The House Labor Committee chose the opt-put provision because many people in the business community insisted on a voluntary program, whereas making it too easy to come and go would undermine the program’s financial viability.

The important thing is to be able to provide an insurance policy that most employers can’t afford, said Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey. For employees, it would help them deal with “the difficult wrenching decision of whether I continue to work and neglect my elderly parent or quit to provide care. This helps them at virtually no cost to the employer.”

The bill still has a long way to go. House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, assigned it to the House Commerce Committee, where it is expected to face a tough battle. It would then go before the full House again before returning to the Senate.

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