My Turn: Sununu’s paid family leave ‘plan’ falls short

For the Monitor
Published: 2/5/2019 12:10:02 AM

While I was disappointed with the results of November’s gubernatorial election, I took solace in knowing that our campaign made paid family and medical leave an issue that Gov. Chris Sununu would have to address in his second term. I was optimistic that all New Hampshire workers would soon have access to a paid family leave policy that allows them to be with a newborn baby, care for a parent or be with a sick child.

After all, Sununu vowed, for the second straight campaign, to support paid family leave. Even as he undermined his understanding of the importance of this policy – he called it a “vacation” on multiple occasions – Sununu said he was working on a plan.

That was in October. Three months later, Sununu’s proposal – offered in a high-profile press conference – remains as bare-bones as it was on the campaign trail, suggesting that his support for paid family leave was just an empty campaign promise. Missing from the announcement was evidence that plans would be affordable, details on how to ensure a stable market, any legislative language whatsoever and input from legislators whose support he needs to enact such a proposal.

Further, Sununu failed to seek support from state employees, the centerpiece of his pitch. Rich Gulla, president of the State Employees Association, recently said: “We really don’t know any details because we weren’t included in the discussions. We’d hoped the governor might call us to include us in this process.”

If Sununu were serious about making paid family leave a reality for New Hampshire families, and not just appearing to support it out of political expediency, then he would seek to build bipartisan backing necessary to enact his proposal.

The ineffective Sununu approach, though, is consistent and clear: a flashy press conference to make an announcement and garner headlines, but no action to move forward with his proposal. We saw this play out last year when he called a special session to address the online sales tax issue for small businesses, but couldn’t be bothered to show up to ensure his bill passed. When Republicans and Democrats rejected the bill, Sununu was mingling with corporate special interests thousands of miles away in a Colorado resort town. Sununu is repeatedly unwilling to do the hard work to get the job done for the people of New Hampshire.

Fortunately, Democrats in the Legislature are not waiting for the governor to lead. The Senate and the House are introducing and vetting paid family leave bills that are being shaped by input from experts, from businesses large and small, and from the workers who desperately need a paycheck when going through hard times. Legislators are listening to stakeholders, working across the aisle and making adjustments to earn support. In short, they are doing the hard work that Sununu refuses to undertake.

New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly support paid family leave and reject the scare tactics and disinformation pushed by opponents; after all, Democratic candidates who ran successfully for the state Legislature in 2018 made paid family leave a centerpiece of their campaigns. And I heard from so many Granite Staters as I campaigned across New Hampshire last year about how much of a difference paid family leave would make in their lives.

We can establish and implement a paid family leave insurance program that is accessible, affordable and inclusive of all employees, but only if we have the political will – not vague talk – to make it happen. I encourage and support legislators who are diligently working through the legislative process, listening to good ideas to improve the bills and committing to put a final product on Sununu’s desk. New Hampshire workers and their families should not have to wait any longer.

(Molly Kelly was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2018. She lives in Harrisville.)

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