Lawmakers recommend paid family leave policy in New Hampshire

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A bipartisan group of lawmakers recommended the introduction of paid family and medical leave to New Hampshire on Tuesday, voting 13-5 to move a bill forward to the House next session.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Mary Gile, D-Concord, would create a state-administered insurance program to provide employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave. The legislation would allow workers who have recently become parents and who are or have relatives who are suffering serious health conditions to claim the leave.

All nongovernmental employers would be required to provide the plans – to qualify, workers would need to pay in quarterly premiums and be employed at least six months.

The bill, House Bill 628, passed a House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative subcommittee in September. An amended version strengthening the bill’s employee opt-in and opt-out provisions was recommended “ought to pass” by the full committee Tuesday.

Gile said the bill, if passed, could help alleviate New Hampshire’s workforce shortage.

“Paid family leave is a really good benefit,” she said. “We as a state are in trouble. We need something that’s going to bring back young families in particular.”

For Gile, it’s the latest step in a 20-year effort to move a paid family leave bill forward. After Gile was forced to retire as chair of the state’s Department of Early Childhood Education to care for her mother, she ran for the Legislature in 1997 hoping for change.

Despite starts and stops, Tuesday’s vote was the first time a family leave bill of hers had been recommended by a committee, she said. The concept gained recent popularity; a 2016 University of New Hampshire poll found 82 percent of residents support the practice.

But the bill has a ways to go, including House finance and rules committees and a floor vote – and no certain future.

Some Republicans on the committee expressed concern with the funding, arguing it was too burdensome on employers and needed further development.

Rep. Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington, called it an income tax on employees, and said that it would drive away businesses and employees.

And Rep. Stephen Schmidt, R-Wolfeboro, said the bill failed to guarantee enough usage to be solvent, and that the generous “opt-in/opt-out” provisions could open the program to abuse. Listing a series of scenarios that he said the bill did not account for, Schmidt recommended it be tabled and sent for interim study.

“Conceptually, the idea of family leave in my mind is good,” Schmidt said. “But this piece of legislation … has a lot of issues I think that should be addressed to make it meaningful.”

Without the errors fixed, he added, the bill could “run into a brick wall” when it arrives at the House next session.

But others said the bill was worth a recommendation even if there were still kinks to iron out.

“This House Bill 628 is a lot like myself with my girlfriend – she would assert many times that I’m not ready for prime time, but we still have a great relationship,” said Rep. Philip Bean, R-Hampton, who voted yes.

“It is a socially just, moral imperative to execute right now,” he added.