The third time seems to be the charm on efforts to get a paid family and medical leave bill through the New Hampshire House.
But the most recent passage came only after heated debate over a last-minute amendment from the House Finance Committee that would have made drastic changes to the version of the program that passed the House twice before.
Republicans, including Governor Chris Sununu, made a push to change the bill from a voluntary insurance program run by the state to one that relied on short-term disability plans administered by individual companies.
The governor said the changes addressed concerns about how to pay for the program and make sure it lasts for the long haul.
“I have long stated the belief that a paid-leave program, if structured correctly, would be beneficial to Granite Staters,” Sununu said in a statement issued by his office ahead of this week’s vote. “My preference is for a truly voluntary program, without administrative barriers and burdens, available to all who choose to participate.”
But supporters of the original version of House Bill 628, including Republican Rep. Brian Stone of Northwood, cast doubt on the intent behind the last-minute changes.
“A new bill with no hearings, an amendment written by someone who voted to kill the bill twice on the House floor already,” Stone said during floor debate on Thursday. “Do we really think that the majority of the finance committee wishes to propose an amendment for the bill to actually succeed?”
The new amendment also drew outcry from the Business and Industry Association, which claimed it would amount to an employer mandate. Despite its opposition to the amendment, the statewide business coalition said it remains neutral on the overall concept of the original family and medical leave bill.
In the end, a small group of Republicans joined with Democrats to defeat the amendment and push the original bill over the finish line – at least in the House. Now, it will likely begin another uphill climb in the Senate.
Asked about the governor's position on the bill as it stands now, gubernatorial spokesman Ben Vihstadt said Sununu supports the concept of paid family leave but "has serious concerns regarding the solvency and sustainability of HB 628 as currently constructed."
"He looks forward to working with the Senate to achieve a program that is truly voluntary, without administrative barriers and burdens and available to all who choose to participate," Vihstadt wrote after Thursday's vote. "We simply cannot create a program that Granite Staters would come to rely on that we aren’t certain would be there for them in their times of need. Much works remains to be done in the Senate to address these concerns."