Democrats quick to criticize governors’ paid leave proposal

  • 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

Monitor staff
Published: 1/18/2019 5:40:54 PM

Within a day of Govs. Chris Sununu and Phil Scott unveiling a proposal to create a joint, Vermont-New Hampshire paid family leave program Democratic leaders in both states had loudly rejected the plan and released rival proposals.

In New Hampshire, that means three paid family and medical leave proposals are now on the table, months after Democrat Molly Kelly made the policy a key component of her gubernatorial run.

Here’s a breakdown:

The House Democratic plan

Concord Rep. Mary Jane Wallner has submitted legislation that more or less revives the original version of former representative Mary Stuart Gile’s paid family leave bill last year.

The program would allow up to 12 weeks of leave, at up to 85 percent of the average weekly state salary, for anyone with a recent birth of a child, adoption, family illness or family injury related to foreign deployment in the military.

Employees taking leave would continue to receive health care through their employers while out of work and would be guaranteed to keep their jobs when done, under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

All private employers would be required to participate; state agencies could opt-in if it met the requirements of collective bargaining. Employers would pay 0.5 percent of weekly wages for each employee for premiums, a cost they could pay for themselves or pass onto employees.

But rather than administering the program through the Department of Employment Security – an estimated $14.5 million start-up cost in the Gile legislation – Wallner’s bill, House Bill 712, would allow that department to contract out the administration of the program.

The SenateDemocratic plan

The Senate Democratic proposal, released Wednesday by Majority Leader Dan Feltes, hews closely to many of the details of the House plan.

The benefit would cover 12 weeks, at up to 85 percent average wages, for employees with the same qualifying situations. Employers would contribute 0.5 percent of wages and could pass the costs to employees.

But Feltes’s proposal differs in a key way. While employers would still be mandated to participate, they could opt out of the state’s program by purchasing equivalent private insurance or administering their own.

And unlike the House plan, the Senate bill would only mandate that employers hold the departing employee’s position if the business or organization has 15 or more employees.

Still, both the House and Senate plans have one key element in common: Neither has an opt-out proposal and both are mandatory for all private sector employees. In that way, the governor’s proposal differs greatly.

Gov. Sununu’s plan

Sununu’s proposal, developed with Scott, would be a voluntary, opt-in program delivered by private insurers.

The benefit would cover the same scenarios: births, adoption, illnesses and exigencies for active duty military family members. But the maximum length of leave would be six weeks – half as long as the Democrats’ bills.

After that, the similarities end. Sununu’s plan would be opt-in, not universal; private sector employers could choose whether to participate and pay premiums accordingly. But because no insurance market presently exists for those companies to buy into, Sununu and Scott are attempting to effectively create one themselves.

To do that, they’ll need to negotiate with their state employee unions to add the insurance to their contracts, which would allow the two states to guarantee a starter pool of 18,500 users to attract the insurers.

The starter pool would allow interested insurers to create a policy and rate for those users and then market it to private sector employers and employees.

It’s a unique plan that Sununu argues creates a preferable, market-based option. But because the cooperation of the unions and the bids from insurers are unknown, the per-person premium costs are also unknown.

The details, in this case, depend on the execution.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at 369-3307 or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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