GOP revives paid family leave plan for N.H.

  • FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2019, file photo, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, left, and his New Hampshire counterpart Gov. Chris Sununu, right, face reporters during a news conference in Littleton, N.H. In an opinion piece released Monday, July 29, 2019, Govs. Scott and Sununu urged Congress to approve the replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, saying the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement will benefit their two states and New England as a whole because of the close economic ties between the states and Canada. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File) Wilson Ring

Monitor staff
Published: 10/23/2019 5:45:32 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu threw his support behind a Republican paid family leave bill Wednesday – the second effort in two years on an issue that’s become fiercely partisan.

A proposed bill submitted Wednesday by Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, would create a voluntary insurance program for businesses or individuals – but with some major overhauls from a previous version.

The new bill would create a credit against the Business Enterprise Tax to try to entice companies to provide it voluntarily. And it would add a new tax on the premiums paid to the insurance companies running the program – and use the revenue from that tax to attempt to keep costs down.

“I support paid family leave and have a plan to get it done,” Sununu said in a statement, calling the bill “the best shot at providing a paid leave plan that does not have administrative barriers or burdens.”

“Instead of government mandates that would impose an income tax, this is a truly voluntary, innovative plan that would deliver for New Hampshire families.”

The bill comes after a multi-year effort by Democrats to introduce a program of their own, and months after Sununu vetoed a Democratic effort to do so. That effort attracted Republican opprobrium for mandating that businesses provide the service rather than allowing them to opt-in.

Earlier this year, Sununu proposed a voluntary program with the Republican governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, that would span across the two states in order to broaden the pool and bring down costs. That program, placed in the budget, failed after Vermont and New Hampshire state employees unions failed to buy into the plan and after Democratic lawmakers in both states declined to move it forward.

The bill submitted this year, which will appear before the Senate in 2020, retains many of the elements of the New Hampshire-Vermont plan but as a single state model.

It allows an employee to earn up to six weeks of paid leave each year within 12 months of the birth of a child, 12 months of an adoption, or in the case of serious health conditions suffered by a family member.

The bill offers the program to all 10,000 state employees, paid for by out of state funds, in order to help broaden the coverage pool and bring costs down.

And the program, which would be run by private insurers selected by the state, would pay out 60% of the employees normal wages for the time they were out of work.

But the bill also adds a number of new and complicating factors. To save on costs, it strips out paid leave for personal medical problems. Under the law, while a policy holder could take off time to care for a family member’s medical condition, they could not do the same to care for their own.

That change would reduce about 75% of the costs, the governor’s office said. In a statement, the office argued New Hampshire companies already offer short term disability coverage for personal injuries, and that the services were “deemed to be duplicative coverage.”

The new bill also includes a tax incentive for employers: 50% of the premium that employers pay to insure their employees could be deducted from the business enterprise tax.

And the new law includes a new state fund to try to keep weekly premium costs down for individuals who want to pay in individually. That fund would be filled via the state premium tax on all premiums paid – akin to the state tax already levied on health insurance plans.

Democrats were quick to denounce Sununu’s plan as inadequate and costly to the state.

“Make no mistake, it’s a proposal written by and for the insurance lobby that shifts more taxpayer money to insurance companies, discriminates against New Hampshire’s small businesses, and discriminates against Granite State workers who need this coverage the most,” said Sen. Dan Feltes, of Concord, a Democratic candidate for governor.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the maximum duration of paid leave under the Republican plan. The proposal would provide six weeks of coverage. 

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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