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House committee votes against New Hampshire family leave bill 



Monitor staff
Thursday, February 01, 2018

A plan to introduce paid family leave in New Hampshire suffered a major blow Wednesday when a Republican-led House committee recommended killing it.

The vote came a day after President Donald Trump labeled paid family leave a top priority, revealing fissures among the GOP over a policy that has strong support among Democrats.

In an 11-9 vote, Republicans on the House Commerce Committee rejected the proposed program, questioning whether it could stay solvent as written. The legislation heads back to the House floor next Wednesday where lawmakers will need to vote to overturn the committee recommendation for the bill to continue.

House Bill 628 would create a state-administered insurance program to provide employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave. The program would offer leave to workers who have recently become parents, are suffering from serious health conditions or have relatives suffering from serious health conditions.

The program would be optional to employees; those participating would contribute an amount capped at 0.5 percent of weekly wages.

But Republicans have voiced qualms with the program’s estimated $15 million startup cost, and say there’s no guarantee that enough people would sign up to keep the program stable. Among their concerns is how the program allows for participation: As currently written, the bill would allow workers to opt in every 12 months and opt out whenever they desire, which could make attendance volatile.

“There’s so much uncertainty in terms of participation,” said Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, who headed a subcommittee that also voted against the bill. “That means there’s uncertainty of cost. And now that means there’s uncertainty of our ability to pay claims. And that makes me very nervous because I don’t want to make a promise that we can’t keep.”

The decision appeared to hamper momentum for a bill that had cleared the House floor by a comfortable margin. The chamber voted, 183-151, to pass the bill on this month; Wednesday’s Commerce Committee’s move will force the House to revisit its decision.

Overturning the committee recommendation is no easy task. But Rep. Mary Gile, D-Concord, the bill’s prime sponsor, said she hopes to rally the support of those who previously voted in favor. Speaking after the vote, Gile said she’s open to further tweaks to the bill – including removing the opt-out provision – and added that more fixes could be made in the Finance Committee down the road.

“I just feel that in the long run, I would hope it would get through,” she said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)