New Hampshire Senate passes paid family leave bill

February 14, 2019

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Democratic-led New Hampshire Senate passed a paid family medical leave bill Thursday, further setting up a showdown with a competing plan promoted by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

The plan approved by the Senate along party lines offers up to 12 weeks of paid leave for state and non-government employees for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, a serious illness not related to employment or the serious illness of a spouse or certain other relatives. It would require businesses to provide insurance or send 0.5 percent of employees’ weekly wages to the state.

Sununu and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott recently introduced a voluntary program in which both states would cover the cost of up to six week of leave. Sununu, who released draft language of related legislation Thursday as part of his budget proposal, argues the Democratic proposal amounts to an income tax.

In the Senate, supporters of the bill argued the state hasn’t done enough to attract young workers, and is at a disadvantage given that surrounding states offer such leave.

“One tool we have at our disposal to attract this younger workforce, these young people and families — hopefully my future grandchildren — is to make sure nobody has to choose between the job they need to live here and the family they love,” said Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua. “Paid family medical leave insurance can help us do that.”

Republicans unsuccessfully sought to amend the bill to require an independent actuarial analysis of the program. Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said the analysis contained in the bill was based on 2012 data from states with far different demographics than New Hampshire.

“This is junk compared to today’s realties and it needs to be re-assessed,” he said.

He said no business owners in his district have asked him to back the bill.

“Where’s the fire, what’s the rush?” he said.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, spoke emotionally about her 39-year-old daughter, who was born with significant birth defects. Her husband was in the military and couldn’t take time off.

“I spent the majority of my 20s living in hospitals with my daughter, not for days at a time, or even weeks. I’m talking months,” she said. “We were in a tough place but we made our own luck. We worked hard and we sacrificed.”

Carson said she opposes the bill because it is an inflexible mandate.

“This program could have done nothing to help me,” she said. “Sometimes the government just can’t be everything to everybody, and you have to stand on your own.”

Democratic Majority Leader Dan Feltes defended he bill’s analysis, and argued lawmakers should stop saying “hurry up and wait” to New Hampshire families.

“Is there an upfront cost? Yes. But let’s weight that against the cost incurred to the small business community already with leaves being taken, the cost incurred in terms of not retaining workers because we know when there’s paid family medical leave insurance, workers come back in four-fold numbers,” he said. “And how do evaluate that upfront cost of an insurance program juxtaposed against the value of being there with your family when they need you.

“How can you put a price tag on being there with a newborn?” he said. “How can you put a price tag on being there with a family member who’s dying?”

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