Veto Looms As Democrats Pass Paid Family Leave Program

Mar 20, 2019

Credit NHPR Staff

A paid family medical leave program cleared the New Hampshire House on Wednesday, setting up a possible veto from Gov. Chris Sununu.

Senate Bill 1, a top priority for Democrats this session, calls for up to twelve weeks of paid leave at up to 60 percent of a worker’s salary. Employees could use the benefit after the birth or adoption of a child, or take care of a sick family member.

The program would be funded with a .5 percent payroll tax, covered by an employer or passed along to the worker. Unlike last year’s version, which cleared the House but was ultimately scuttled in the Senate, there is no “opt out” option for employees.

The Democratic-backed plan also would seek to hire an outside company to manage the program.

“Paid family and medical leave is a moral issue. It’s an opportunity to be with a family member when they are at their most vulnerable,” Rep. Manny Espitia, a Democrat from Nashua, told colleagues during a brief debate on the House floor.

Republicans have said they support the concept of a paid family leave program, but criticize the Democrats'  approach.

“Family and medical leave should be a benefit that is negotiated between employer and employee, not a one-size fits all government program,” said Rep. Jonathan Mackie, a Republican from Meredith.

The GOP has called the program’s funding mechanism an income tax in disguise. The party is backing a voluntary paid family leave plan put forward by Sununu that would enroll all state employees in a privately funded program, and allow private employers and employees to buy in.

Democrats say that will result in a smaller pool of participants, which would drive up prices.

The Senate passed the bill last month on a 13-10 party-line vote.