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May 23. 2013 7:46PM

Senate votes on minimum wage, lobsters, bar hours

CONCORD — The Senate voted 13-11 Thursday down party lines to kill a bill that would have reestablished the state's minimum wage law.

New Hampshire is one of a handful of states that does not have its own minimum wage, but relies on the federal minimum wage, after the state's law was repealed two years ago.

House Bill 501 would have reinstituted the state minimum wage at the same rate as the federal law, $7.25 an hour.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said the most recent increase in the federal law killed jobs, particularly for teenagers and those seeking entry-level positions.

Of the 16 states with a higher minimum wage than the federal limit, 14 have higher unemployment rates than New Hampshire, Bradley said. One has the same rate and one is lower.

"Despite the well-meaning intent," Bradley said, "the minimum wage costs us jobs."

But Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said Granite State legislators need to be the ones deciding what is best for New Hampshire citizens, not federal lawmakers.

While the state was the first to institute its own minimum wage, Soucy said, "We are now amongst a small handful of states that cedes its authority to the federal government when on so many other issues we refuse to cede authority to the federal government."

The Senate earlier in the year, had tabled Senate Bill 77, which would have also reinstituted the state's minimum wage law.

Fuel oil cleanup fund

People will be paying a little more for heating oil after the Senate approved House Bill 185, which adds a quarter of a penny per gallon fee used to fund fuel oil tank cleanups and replacements.

The current charge is 1 cent a gallon and was 1.25 cents until several years ago, after years of surpluses in the fuel oil discharge cleanup fund.

Bill supporters have said the increase is needed because fewer and fewer people are using heating oil, instead switching to less costly fuels such as wood, propane and natural gas; the fund is nearly depleted.

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, said the fund is used to help low-income home owners replace deteriorating oil storage tanks before they leak.

The bill now goes to the governor.

Bar closing times

Bars may be able to stay open an hour longer after the Senate approved House Bill 575, which would allow a community to set closing time for bars at 2 a.m. instead of the current 1 a.m.

The House would have allowed communities to opt out of the statewide change in closing time, but the Senate version would have cities and towns vote to allow the additional hour instead.

The bill will have to return to the House because of the Senate change.

No lobster licenses

Scuba divers will not be able to take five lobsters a day after the Senate killed House Bill 259.

The bill would have allowed the House-approved bill to allow scuba divers to take up to five lobsters a day during the month of September.

The price of a license would have been $35, the same as the recreational lobster and crab license which also limits the number of traps to five.

Liquor Commission

The Senate approved two bills that will change how the state Liquor Commission operates.

House Bill 599 would put a single commissioner in charge of the agency with a deputy instead of the current three-member commission, while House Bill 686 would require the Liquor Commission to seek Governor and Executive Council approval for contracts greater than $10,000. Currently the commission does not need Executive Council approval to award contracts.

Both bills will return to the House due to changes the Senate made.

CHINS program

Problem children could receive services once provided under the Children in Need of Services program through a voluntary rather than court-ordered arrangement.

The Senate approved House Bill 260, which expands the definition of a child in need of services and establishes a voluntary program, but allows parents, school officials, truant officers and law enforcement to petition a judge to order treatment for the child if the voluntary program is not successful.

The CHINS program was eliminated in the last budget for all but the most dangerous youths.

Under the bill, people who would have gone to court under the original program would first participate in the voluntary program, with services provided through the Department of Health and Human Services.

The services would be school or community-based and not more expensive residential services.

grayno@unionleader.com



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