Gov. Chris Sununu vetoes Dems’ paid family leave bill

  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, at left, and his New Hampshire counterpart Gov. Chris Sununu talk on Wednesday Jan. 16, 2019 in Littleton, N.H., about a proposal for a voluntary paid family leave program that would be available in both states. The proposal must be approved by the legislatures in both states. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring) Wilson Ring

  • Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the Democrat's paid family leave plan on Thursday, calling it an income tax that he wouldn't support. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 5/9/2019 5:46:50 PM
Modified: 5/9/2019 5:46:40 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a Democratic plan for paid family and medical leave Thursday, a long-awaited move that cemented deeply partisan divisions over the policy.

In a statement Thursday evening, the governor said he was standing up for taxpayers in vetoing Senate Bill 1, a proposal to create universal family leave coverage for New Hampshire workers through an employer mandate.

“Senate Bill 1 is an income tax that neither I nor the people of New Hampshire will ever support,” Sununu said in a statement shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday. Pivoting to an alternative plan he proposed this year, he added: “I have proposed a paid family medical leave plan that will work – one that is voluntary, affordable and income tax free. That is the New Hampshire way.”

The veto, delivered a day after Senate President Donna Soucy passed the bill down to the governor’s office, fired up the political sphere Thursday evening, prompting sharp statements on all sides.

And it set up a standoff likely to last through a veto-override attempt by the Democratic Legislature and into the 2020 election.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord painted the move as a reversal from previously voiced support from Sununu for the concept of paid family leave.

“Politicians – regardless of their last name or where they come from – should actually work for the people, should keep their campaign promises, and should tell the truth,” Feltes said. “Governor Sununu has done none of that on paid family and medical leave, and he’s left working families and small businesses to fall further and further behind.”

Modeled off universal programs in New York and Rhode Island, SB 1 would mandate that businesses provide paid family leave insurance to all employees – whether through their own efforts or a statewide program created by the bill.

That state program would be contracted with a third party and require 0.5% of weekly wages to be passed on to the Department of Employment Security by employers, who could choose to pay the costs themselves or deduct some or all of them from employees’ wages. Under the bill, beneficiaries could receive up to 12 weeks of time off at 60% of wages, covering births, adoptions, non-employment related health emergencies or family illness.

Any alternative plan offered by businesses would have to provide the equivalent.

Paid family leave in the abstract has proven attractive to both parties. But sharp disagreements over the structure of New Hampshire’s have escalated into partisan warfare in recent years.

Republicans have taken aim at the option for employers to pass the 0.5% cost onto employees, calling it an income tax. Democrats have said the benefits outweigh potential employee deductions and have pointed to high support for the concept in state opinion polls.

The veto comes as Sununu’s alternative, opt-in plan, crafted with Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont has floundered in recent months against Democratically-controlled legislatures.

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