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Family and Medical Leave Bill Gets More Scrutiny in Senate Committee


In its first hearing on the proposal, the Senate Finance Committee heard from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, an economist and even a doctor urging them to endorse a paid family and medical leave program.

But they also heard from the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Employment Security, Richard Lavers, who cautioned that setting up such a program would require a significant time, money and staff resources.

“Let me be very clear with the committee: This is not a program that the department would simply flip a switch and turn on,” Lavers said.

Under the current proposal, Employment Security would be responsible for collecting and paying out funds for the program. They estimate it would take at least two years to launch the software needed to run the program, more than 40 staff and about $14.5 million dollars to pay for all of it. The department isn’t taking a formal position for or against the proposal but has provided those estimates to lawmakers as part of their consideration of whether to pass it.

Elsewhere during the hours-long hearing, members of the Senate Finance Committee peppered supporters of the paid family and medical leave program with questions about how it would work and how to pay for it.

Sen. Bob Giuda, a Republican from Warren, was especially interested in hearing whether the opioid crisis had been factored into estimates about how many people might participate in the program. Taking leave from work for addiction treatment would be covered under the bill.

“Was the opioid crisis – particular to New Hampshire – put into the assumptions? Because I see that as a burgeoning and unquantifiable open-ended liability on this,” Giuda said. “That's the biggest source of my concern for this program.”

Lisa Shapiro, an economist who worked with supporters of the bill to come up with estimated participation rates, said they did factor in rates of illness broadly – but she didn't know if opioid use, specifically, was included.

“Illness is built into the model. I’m not aware that they asked what type of illness, why are you taking family leave, because someone in your family is ill,” Shapiro said. “But let’s uncover some statistics and look at statistics of opioid abuse in the state and see if we can drill down a little more for you on that.”

So far, the proposal has survived three rounds of voting in the House. It still needs Senate approval – and likely needs to overcome skepticism from the governor, who said he’s concerned the current proposal isn’t financially sound – before it might become law.

This post has been updated to correct an error in the estimated costs associated with this program.

Casey McDermott is an editor and reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio, where she works with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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