Paid family leave measure finally comes to a vote in NH House today

2018-01-09 | The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester)

Jan. 09--Paid family leave measure finally comes to a vote in NH House today

By DAVE SOLOMON

State House Bureau

January 08. 2018 9:29PM

CONCORD -- A years-long effort to bring a paid medical and family leave benefit to New Hampshire workers finally comes to a vote in the House of Representatives today, and state Rep. Mary Gile, D-Concord, is cautiously optimistic.

"This particularly bill has gained a lot of support," she said, referring to the bipartisan 13-6 vote in support of the measure from the House Labor Committee in November. "The topic of paid family leave has been on my agenda since 2000. It's been quite a journey and there have been an awful lot of people involved."

The bill, HB 628, calls for a 0.5 percent wage contribution from employees, who can choose to opt-out of the program.

After qualifying, a worker would get 60 percent of average wages for up to 12 weeks, with a minimum benefit of $125 a week.

Qualifying events would include birth, adoption or fostering of a child; or the serious illness of a spouse, civil union partner, child, parent, grandparent or in-laws, as defined by the federal Family Medical Leave Act and includes treatment for addiction.

State Rep. Philip Bean, R-Hampton, describes the bill as "critical to New Hampshire's efforts to address some of our most significant challenges."

Those include "growing and maintaining our workforce, caring for our seniors and an aging population and supporting recovery from the opioid public health epidemic," according to Bean.

Rep. Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington, arguing against the measure, calls it a "new 0.5 percent tax on income disguised as an insurance premium, while creating yet another unneeded social program."

The original bill required participation in the program by every non-government wage earner in the state. It was later amended to provide an opt-out option.

"What will eventually occur is much the same as happened with Obamacare," according to Turcotte. "Initial promises and cost-benefit predictions will be impossible to meet, requiring either an increase in the tax percentage or the taxpayers picking up the difference."

He also worries that workers will be able to "game" the system, opting in when they know an elective surgery or pregnancy is planned, and later opting out.

Opponents of the bill argue that companies are free to offer such a benefit if they so choose, and that insurance companies offer medical leave insurance products on the open market for people who want to buy them.

Four states -- New York, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island -- currently offer paid family and medical leave. Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Netflix have generous corporate policies, but only 13 percent of American workers in the private sector have access to such a benefit.

President Trump's daughter, Ivanka, has pushed paid family leave at the federal level, which is now in Trump's budget plan.

The New Hampshire bill still has several hurdles to clear, even if it passes the House today.

Gile says she's been told that the bill will have to go through the House Commerce Committee and the Finance Committee, and come back to the House for another vote if those committees make changes. Only then, assuming it passes, would the bill go to the Senate.

Gov. Chris Sununu has not come out for or against the bill. He declined to take a position on Monday. However, when he was a candidate, his spokesman at the time said, "The governor supports the concept of paid family medical leave, but believes a deeper conversation on the costs and viability of implementation is needed."

dsolomon@unionleader.com

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