At a time New Hampshire faces increasingly fierce competition from other states to attract and retain workers, House Republicans last showed they’re intent on making sure New Hampshire doesn’t proceed with a signature workplace initiative of Republican Gov. Chis Sununu to offer a leg up to businesses in a tight labor market and to help at least some Granite State working families facing stressful times.
Shoehorned with a number of other unrelated measures as part of last year’s budget trailer bill, the Granite State Paid Family Leave Plan was championed by Sununu as a voluntary approach to making paid family leave more widely available. Such leave — which provides a measure of financial protection to families facing critical situations such as the birth or adoption of a child or a family member’s serious medical condition — has become increasingly recognized across the country as a desirable workforce benefit, particularly for family members who face the choice of going on unpaid leave or giving up their jobs to address a family medical crisis or transition to a newborn in the family.
Sununu himself resisted attempts by the predecessor Democratic-controlled Legislature to adopt a universal paid leave program, giving it the New Hampshire kiss of death by claiming it was an income tax. Instead, he promoted a plan, which was tucked into the 210-page trailer bill at the last moment, that will provide paid family leave to all state employees and make it available on a voluntary basis to businesses with more than 50 employees. Businesses who opt in will have their unpaid leave premiums reduced by 50 percent through a business tax credit. And employees who don’t receive the coverage from their employers can purchase individual coverage for no more than $260 a year.
The plan falls well short of addressing as broadly as necessary an increasingly important need in an economy reliant on two-worker and single working parent households. Also, many questions about its effectiveness remain unanswered, simply because it’s unique and has no track record elsewhere and because it hasn’t yet been launched. Last year’s enabling legislation prescribed a rollout schedule, and the plan’s due to go out to bid to insurance companies only by month’s end, with a target launch date of Jan. 1, 2023. Moreover, the plan’s success will depend considerably on whether a meaningful enough number of businesses will voluntarily sign on and spread the insurance companies’ risk pool, which would keep premiums lower.
Despite the Granite State Paid Family Leave plan’s shortcomings and its as yet unanswered questions, it is at least a plan to begin addressing an important need, and derailing it before launch would be foolhardy. Yet that is what House Republicans hope to do. Last week, all but 16 of those who voted pushed through a bill to repeal the plan, with Jennifer Rhodes of Winchester being the only Republican from this region bucking the majority. In voting to repeal, Republicans expressed their displeasure the plan had been rammed through in last year’s budget trailer bill — this from the group that, through the same mechanism, has saddled the state with its exceedingly divisive divisive concepts law and its draconian restrictions on women’s health and reproductive rights, among other extremist measures. Repeal backers also offered up, without any evidence, predictably alarmist rhetoric claiming the plan’s costs would spiral and lead to huge tax increases.
Almost all the voting Democrats opposed the repeal, though clearly holding their respective noses as they did. Pointing out the plan’s shortcomings, they argued the better course would be to work to improve the plan. Politics do indeed make strange bedfellows, and Sununu will now have to rely on Democrats to preserve his program from his own party’s increasingly defiant legislators.
The plan deserves a chance to be implemented. An incomplete step toward paid family leave is still a step in the right direction. And it’s one any state that professes to care about its citizens’ needs and the competitiveness of its businesses should take, regardless of hyperpartisan political rhetoric. The Senate should shoot down the repeal, and if it doesn’t, Sununu should veto it.