By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Dueling bills to deal with the state’s lack of paid family and medical leave insurance were heard in the Senate on Tuesday.
One measure, House Bill 712-FN, favored by Democrats, and another favored by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, Senate Bill 730-FN-L. Both were the subject of a lengthy hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.
Last year, Sununu vetoed a measure similar to HB 712 which he said would be a tax increase because it would require a payroll deduction open to all workers in the state.
His preferred bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, would be a voluntary program through commercial insurance which would receive no state funding and the leave would be shorter in duration and would not cover those who require leave for their own medical issues.
It would just cover family leave to care for others.
Dr. Oge Young, a retired Concord obstetrician, supported House Bill 712.
He said he would see young mothers at six weeks for a postpartum checkup and many were just beginning to deal with the monumental changes and needs of parenting and were feeling torn up by needing to return to work and deal with the economic realities of their lives before they were ready to leave their babies.
He noted that most other countries in the world have such leave and much more generous plans than that which is outlined in the governor’s bill. He suggested legislators look at the success of New Jersey’s program.
Sununu called the Senate bill the “only shot” to a voluntary program that does not create a tax.
If enacted, Sununu said, it will empower individuals and businesses to make the voluntary choice to opt-in.
“I support paid family leave and have a plan to get it done,” Sununu said. “Instead of government mandates that would impose an income tax, this is a truly voluntary, innovative plan that would deliver for New Hampshire families. I urge the legislature to support this voluntarily paid leave plan because it’s the best shot at providing a paid leave plan that does not have administrative barriers or burdens, is available to all who want it, and is forced upon no one who does not.”
But opponents of the governor’s proposal said it has many shortcomings compared to House Bill 712 which would provide for 12 weeks of paid leave and no elimination period while SB 730 would allow for only six weeks of family leave.
Amanda Sears, director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, spoke in opposition to SB 730.
“Throughout the bill, it refers to family and medical leave however the bill only covers family leave. Medical leave is time one takes for one’s own medical needs, that kind of leave, time to recuperate from one’s own illness or injury is not included at all in SB 730. This is a significant and problematic omission.
Self-care is the most often used type of
leave. In states with true family and medical leave insurance policies, over 70
percent of claims were made for working people in taking time off to attend to
their own personal health needs.”
The Senate Finance Committee will consider both bills and could decide to combine them.
HB 712 passed the House on a vote of 215-141 on Jan. 8, while the Senate bill, favored by Sununu, has not yet cleared the Senate.