The Bulletin Board

Senate poised to block effort by House to repeal Sununu paid family leave program

By: - April 27, 2022 2:12 pm

The New Hampshire Senate chamber. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The New Hampshire Senate appears poised to defeat an attempt by the House to repeal Gov. Chris Sununu’s paid family and medical leave program, after lawmakers in a Senate committee recommended the repeal effort be shelved.

Voting 4-1, the Senate Commerce Committee recommended that House Bill 1165 – which would strike all statutory language related to the new paid family leave program – be moved to “interim study,” a designation that would prevent it from passing this year. 

The recommendation will head next to the full Senate. 

Lawmakers passed the governor’s paid family leave proposal in the two-year state budget last year, adding it as a last-minute compromise item during negotiations between the House and the Senate.

The new program is intended to create a state-supported insurance marketplace to allow private employers to opt into a paid leave policy provided by a carrier. The program is designed to be bolstered by the state’s 10,000 public employees; under the statute, the state will pay the premiums for those employees, allowing insurers to craft policies with a guaranteed pool of beneficiaries as a starting point. 

Beneficiaries would receive up to six weeks of paid leave at 60 percent of pay; premiums would be capped at $5 per person, per month, state officials say

The proposal is still in development. The New Hampshire Insurance Department sent out a request for proposals from companies in late March and is accepting bids until May 9. The state’s employees unions have not yet publicly said whether they will accept the benefit in their next contract. 

The program has been presented by Sununu as a way to provide employers options for paid family and medical leave without making the benefit mandatory. Past proposals by Democrats had included mandatory participation – a model used by other states with universal paid leave programs – with Democrats arguing the approach was necessary to build a risk pool big enough to keep premiums low.

But while Republican lawmakers passed the new program as part of the budget last year, Republicans in the House have voiced opposition, arguing that it could prove costly to the state in the long run. 

“Over the years, this FMLI will morph into a public sector benefit/entitlement paid for by taxpayers,” said Rep. Len Turcotte, a Barrington Republican. The repeal bill passed the House, 172-164, with Democrats opposing it, arguing that it should be fixed but not eliminated.

Republican senators appear supportive of the governor’s program – or at least supportive of letting it be.

“A lot of work has been put into standing up this program,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, during Tuesday’s Senate Commerce Committee meeting. “I see no reason that we should just repeal it.” 

Sen. Harold French, a Franklin Republican and the chairman of the committee, said he voted against the paid family leave plans “time after time.”

“However, we put this in our budget; it’s a Republican budget,” he said. “We should give it the chance to see if it can be successful or not.” 

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]