Competing Paid Family Leave Bills Get Public Hearing At N.H. State House

Mar 3, 2020

Sen. Dan Feltes (D-Concord) listens as Gov. Chris Sununu testifies on Tuesday.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

Democrats and Republicans appear to be at a stalemate over two competing paid family medical leave bills. 

A Senate committee heard hours of testimony on Tuesday inside an overheated conference room, with both sides presenting arguments for and against the differing versions.

That included blunt remarks from Gov. Chris Sununu, who took the unusual step of testifying in support of his preferred paid family leave proposal, Senate Bill 730.

The Republican-backed measure would cover all state employees with up to six weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or when workers need to take an extended leave to take care of a sick loved one. 

Private-sector workers would be able to purchase their own paid leave policies, or businesses could offer the program as a benefit, while receiving a tax break.

Sununu criticized the Democrats’ competing legislation, House Bill 712. The measure would mandate participation by all workers, with a .5% payroll deduction funding the program. Sununu labels that an “income tax.”

“It is an absolute non-starter,” Sununu told the Senate Finance Committee. “It will be vetoed, and that veto will be upheld and the state will go without a plan.”

Sununu declined to take questions from the Committee on the GOP-backed plan, however. 

By mandating coverage, Democrats argue that there policy will result in a lower premium payment per person, and would also ensure that low-income workers, who are the least likely to currently have paid leave, would be covered.

“What’s paid family leave and medical leave insurance all about?” asked Sen. Dan Feltes, a Concord Democrat. “We value work, we value family. We should value the proposition that you shouldn’t have to choose between the two if at all possible.”

He told the committee the Democrats’ plan also offers a longer leave window of up to 12 weeks, and would extend to the individual worker, should he or she fall ill, and not just that person’s immediate family.

Feltes also looked to counter the GOP’s main criticism of his proposal: that the funding mechanism of a payroll deduction amounts to an income tax.

He said that businesses have options, including choosing to offer the benefit to workers, or share the costs. 

“There is no mandated tax in HB 712. Period,” said Feltes. “Anybody who tells you otherwise, it is literally political spin.”

With both sides dug in, it doesn’t appear that either proposal would have enough votes to become law this session. It isn’t clear if a compromise version of paid family leave is on the horizon.