Republicans may now control both chambers of the State House and the governorship, but advocates are hopeful a paid family leave law could be on the books at the end of this legislative session.
With Governor-elect Chris Sununu saying he would “absolutely” support paid family and medical leave during his campaign while states across the country – including Massachusetts – take a hard look at the proposal, proponents of such a program think bipartisan momentum is here.
“We believe the widespread bipartisan support, including overwhelming Republican support, indicates this is an issue where our new Legislature can and should advance policy to address the needs of our work force and the economic security of New Hampshire families,” said Amanda Sears, the director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy.
She added that two-thirds of now-elected Republicans who responded to the campaign’s candidate survey said they would support a paid family and medical leave insurance program.
Paid leave advocates like Sears are also bolstered by a University of New Hampshire poll showing strong support – across party lines – for a paid leave.
The poll, which sampled 500 households in February, did find Democrats were more likely to support the policy – 99 percent of Democratic women, and 96 percent of Democratic men said they supported the idea.
But a vast majority of sampled Republicans liked the idea too. Eighty-two percent of Republican women and 69 percent of Republican men expressed support for a paid leave insurance program.
“Those are still overwhelming margins within the Republican party,” Sears said.
Rep. Mary Gile, a Concord Democrat who has long advocated for paid leave in New Hampshire, is working on a new bill to introduce this session.
Modeled on programs in Rhode Island, California and New Jersey, it would establish an insurance program administered by the state – likely the Department of Employment Security. Through payroll deductions, employees would pay into a statewide pool. When they needed to take time off to care for themselves or a family member, they could collect a portion of their wages for up to 12 weeks.
As drafts of the legislation stand right now, employees with participating employers would choose whether to opt in to the system. To ensure the pool of participants was sustainable, Gile said lawmakers are looking at incentives for participation.
Gile said she was worried such legislation could fail again. But she said she believed a sufficient number of Republican lawmakers could be persuaded this time by the success of similar programs elsewhere in the country and its support in the business community.
“They’ll say, well, let’s get on board,” she said.
Fellow Democratic lawmakers working with Gile include newly elected House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff and state Sen. Dan Feltes, both also of Concord, and Rep. Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua.
Both Gile and Sears said they were actively looking for Republican co-sponsors.
House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, a Merrimack Republican, said he couldn’t comment on specific proposals since he hadn’t reviewed any yet.
But he noted in an email to the Monitor that President-elect Donald Trump had pitched his own family leave plan during his campaign – six weeks of paid maternity leave for mothers who give birth – and that Republicans at the federal level were expected to work on the issue.
“On the state level, we need input from all stakeholders – working families and the business community – to come up with a solution that works for New Hampshire,” Hinch wrote. “Our economy depends on the ability for us to recruit and retain skilled workers, and exploring ways to make it easier for them to remain in the workforce under certain family conditions makes sense.”
(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)