Supporters of a paid family and medical leave bill are trying to salvage their plan after a key Senate committee decided it wasn’t ready for passage.
The bill passed the House three times with bipartisan support, despite opposition from Gov. Chris Sununu and Republican leadership along the way. While the governor has indicated broad support for the concept of a paid family leave plan in the past, he doesn’t support the current proposal.
The Senate Finance Committee recently voted to send it back for further study. Senate President Chuck Morse said there were too many “unanswered questions” around the program’s future.
“From the incalculable cost of this paid leave program, to the cumbersome opt-out nature for employees, this program puts our businesses and taxpayers at risk for unknown burdens and future costs,” Morse said in a statement issued by the Senate press office after the committee vote.
Morse, Sununu and other opponents have argued that the proposal is financially unwieldy and could pave the way for an income tax.
In his statement last week, Morse said, “Not only should we refrain from creating additional burdensome regulation for our state’s small businesses, but there is little doubt that a program like this would lead to an income tax which I will never support in New Hampshire.”
Gubernatorial spokesman Ben Vihstadht invoked similar language in an email about Sununu’s position on the policy: “Governor Sununu believes that by administratively trapping people in this program, HB 628 would effectively create an income tax, since money is directly being taken from Granite Staters’ paychecks, and they have few opportunities to prevent this.”
Supporters of paid family leave — including Republicans — say that characterization is misleading.
“As a risk management professional regulated by the insurance commissioner, terms of taxation that are affixed to this bill are disingenuous — in my profession, they’re illegal,” Rep. Phil Bean said. “It’s called misrepresentation and twisting. You could lose your license for fabrications and, shall we say, obfuscations.”
Bean ticked off a list of other big-ticket items in the state budget — Medicaid, tax credits and abatements, emergency funding for dairy farmers — to argue that if the state could find money for those programs without levying an income tax it could find money for paid family and medical leave, too.
“I would protest that use of ‘tax,’ ” Bean said at a press conference organized to rally support for the bill on Tuesday. “I am not a proponent of increased taxation. There’s plenty of money in this state.”
Also on hand for a press conference was Rep. Sean Morrison, another Republican who helped to resurrect the paid leave bill after it faced similar hurdles in the House. He's now urging his Senate colleagues to do the same.
“As a Republican, I viewed this bill as a pro-business bill,” Morrison said. “We had over 100 businesses testify for this legislation. I believe that in order to stay competitive with neighboring states and to attract more workers here, we need to offer benefits just like this.”
The bill sets up a paid leave fund run by the state. The fund would cover time off in case of a family member's death, birth, illness or addiction treatment. Employees would have to pay into the fund for at least six months to be able to participate.