NH House subcommittee votes down paid family leave

Despite attempts to address concerns, measure defeated on party-line vote

Supporters of a bill that would set up a paid family and medical leave program on Tuesday proposed an increase in premiums and a reduction in benefits in an effort to make the program more sustainable and attract legislative support.

But it didn’t work, at least for this round.

A House Commerce subcommittee rejected the supporters’ amendment and voted to kill it on a narrow party-line vote, recommending that the full committee, which is due to vote on Wednesday, do the same. Unless some Republicans defect, they are likely to do so.

“We put forward a productive amendment that addressed concerns of solvency,” said Amanda Sears, director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, one of the main organizations backing the bill.

But whatever happens in the full committee, she expects a full floor fight in the House, which endorsed a paid leave program less than a month ago.

That original bill – House Bill 628 – would have charged a 0.5 percent premium (about $5 a week) to create a program that would provide a maximum of 12 weeks leave, at 60 percent of a worker’s salary (with some maximums and minimums) to care for a new child, a sick or elderly relative, or one’s own physical or mental disability.

Employers would not have to pay into the plan unless they wanted to as a benefit or provided their own benefit. And unlike the few states that have already have paid leave, employees could opt out of both the premium and the benefits. They could opt in after a waiting period, but they couldn’t opt out again unless they switch jobs.

The opt-out provisions had won over some critics, but it provided an additional argument for others – only those who needed leave would buy it, making the program unsustainable.

The state Department of Employment Security, which would run the program, agreed with the critics, at least on the effects of the original premium and price.

Deputy Commissioner Richard Lavers had suggested increasing premiums from 0.05 percent to 0.67 percent, and cutting the benefit from 12 weeks to six weeks to bolster viability.

And that’s exactly what the amendment proposed to do.

“The House agreed to support the policy,” said Rep. Kermit Williams, D-Wilton, who proposed the change. “This is what will make it financially stable.”

But Republicans on the committee still had problems with the measure. Rep. Michael Costable, R-Raymond, said that the opt-out provision meant that the “people who stay in are the ones that are going to use it”

The subcommittee voted, 6-4, to reject the amendment and kill the bill. If the full Commerce Committee votes on it Wednesday, it will probably be voted on by the full House next week. Even if it does pass the House, it would still have to clear the Senate and be signed by the governor, who says he supports paid family and medical leave in concept.

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