New Hampshire, Vermont brewing paid leave plan

Democrats label idea ‘PR stunt’

NASHUA – Gov. Chris Sununu said he supports paid family medical leave for those who work in New Hampshire, but state Democratic leaders are calling the plan he unveiled Wednesday while at a beer brewery a “PR stunt.”

Sununu joined Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a fellow Republican, at the Schilling Beer Co. in Littleton, New Hampshire to discuss the Twin State Voluntary Leave Plan. In the event the legislatures of both states adopt the plan, enrolled public and private sector employees would be eligible for 60 percent wage replacement for six weeks at competitive rates for qualifying events. These events would include the birth of a child, or the need to care for a close relative facing a serious health problem.

“We both believe paid family medical leave offers an incredible opportunity to promote a work-life balance for many workers in our states struggling to meet the demands of the workplace, while also meeting the needs of their families and their own health,” Sununu said.

The governors said their plan creates an insurance product not currently offered in either state. It will be available to all businesses, as well as individuals, and will be anchored by the state employee workforce of both states – a combined 18,500 employees.

“By leveraging the economies of scale of each state’s employment base, insurance carriers will be able to write a competitively priced family leave plan,” Sununu added.

In addition to the birth of a child or a severe family medical matter, other qualifying events could include:

• The placement with the employee a child for adoption or foster care;

• A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job; or

• An urgent situation involving a close relative who is an active duty member of the military.

“This proposal has the potential to help all of our employees,” Schilling Beer Co. CEO Jeff Cozzens said Wednesday. “We are proud to host the governors today as they outline their joint vision for a family medical leave insurance program that speaks to our ultimate concern: the well-being and advancement of our staff and their families.”

Via the plan, the two states would select an insurance carrier, or carriers, through a coordinated request for proposal (RFP) process to assume the risk and manage the benefit and claims under the plan. The insurer(s) would then develop a “State Rate.” This is the per employee cost that each state would pay to provide a Family Medical Leave Insurance (FMLI) plan to its employees. Under the joint-proposal, each state would cover the full costs of providing an FMLI benefit to its employees, and employees will not have to incur any additional cost for the product.

“I’m pleased to put forward a proposal that will help employers provide employees with greater work-life balance,” Scott said. “I want to thank Gov. Sununu and his team for bringing this idea forward, and for this partnership, as we work to improve the lives of residents in both of our states.”

The plan may fall flat with New Hampshire Democrats who control the state Legislature, however. Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, on Wednesday pointed out the fact that Scott vetoed paid family leave legislation in Vermont last year.

“Instead of teaming up with a governor who vetoed paid family leave, Gov. Sununu should learn from the leadership of (Massachusetts) Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and work with legislators who have been working on paid leave for decades to pass a real paid leave policy,” Feltes said. “There’s no policy behind this, there’s no legislative planning behind this, there’s no actuarial studies, there’s no stakeholder support, and there has been no effort at bipartisanship.”

House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey, said of Sununu, “What he laid out today is an unworkable, piecemeal approach, which tosses aside years and years of bipartisan work to make paid family and medical leave a reality in New Hampshire.”

“New Hampshire voters elected majorities in the House and Senate who are committed to bringing paid family and medical leave to the Granite State,” Ley added. “It is time for Gov. Sununu to roll up his sleeves and honestly engage the legislators and advocates who are working to implement the will of New Hampshire voters.”