Paid leave bill clears hurdle, heads on to full committee

Monitor staff
Saturday, September 30, 2017

A bill to establish a paid family and medical leave program got bipartisan greenlight from a subcommittee of state lawmakers this week and advocates are hopeful this year will finally see paid leave become a reality in New Hampshire.

House Bill 628 would create a state-administered insurance program funded by private employees contributing 0.5 percent of their salaries. (Public employees could also get into the program, if participation were written into their collective bargaining contracts.)

Participants would be allowed to dip into the insurance pool to take up to 12 weeks of leave, either to take care of a child, a relative, or for personal medical reasons. They’d receive 60 percent of their salary while away.

On Wednesday, a House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative subcommittee voted 5-0 to recommend the bill to the full committee.

“I think there’s a long way to go clearly, but I think this is something that this Legislature could do,” said Amanda Sears, the director of the Campaign for a Family-Friendly Economy. “I’m optimistic that we can have a bipartisan majority of lawmakers support this.”

Right now, the bill creates a program employees can’t opt-out of. Discussion by lawmakers will likely center around whether or not to allow employees to do so. Experts say it’s imperative that the program, which will have to be self-funded, have high rates of participation in order to be sustainable.

HB 628 was retained last session after lawmakers said they wanted more time to work out details. Multiple bills trying to establish paid leave have stalled out in the Legislature over the past decade and half, but advocates say the headwinds of public opinion are on their side. A UNH poll released last year showed more than 80 percent of Granite Staters supported such a program.

The full committee will have to report out on the bill by Nov. 16 in order for the bill to come before the House at the beginning of the session.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)