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February 19. 2014 6:50PM

Legislative Roundup: House looks at ways to ensure fair pay for all by forbidding gag orders on salaries

CONCORD — Gag orders preventing employees from discussing salaries and benefits would be forbidden under a bill approved 183-125 by the House Wednesday.

House Bill 1188 requires that men and women be paid the same salary for doing the same job and prohibits companies from imposing the employee gag orders.

Bill supporters acknowledge current law prohibits pay differences based on gender, but said unless employees can openly discuss salaries and benefits they have no way of discovering if pay inequities exist.

“If the employer pays fairly and equitability, what is there to hide?” said Rep. Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey. “We need to give employees the means to discover whether gender based inequity exists. That is why gag rules are in place.”

But opponents argued such information would be disruptive to the workplace and could create chaos.

“As an employer, you can not always qualify why you pay one employee differently than another,” said Rep. Will Infantine, R-Manchester, citing a 2009 federal Department of Labor study that said wage differentials do not necessarily require corrective action.

“We are not saying that we believe that women should be paid less for the same job,” Infantine said. “We think that is despicable.”

Other bill opponents say there is little evidence of a problem in New Hampshire and the bill is not needed.

“The gender wage gap doesn’t exist, according to the Department of Labor, when men and women have the same jobs with same experience level,” said Rep Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead. “Women are highly educated and skilled employees. We can take responsibility for ourselves and do not need government involved in our work life.”

But supporters said, without lifting the gag orders, there is no way of knowing whether there is a problem with New Hampshire companies.

“Women deserve equal compensation for their work and they must have the tools available to ensure that justice can be sought and obtained,” said House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth. “With the data continuing to show that women earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, I’m proud we are taking this step towards equality for the hard working women across this state.”

The bill now goes to the Senate, which has yet to act on a similar bill introduced by Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord.

NH Public Television

New Hampshire Public Television could receive state support after the House voted 223-104 to reserve itself and lift a restriction passed two years ago.

House bill 1251 would have appropriated $2.7 million for the Durham-based television station, but the House Finance Committee decided to allow the organization to negotiate with state agencies for funds or services.

Currently, the station is forbidden from seeking or working with state agencies.

The change will allow negotiations with agencies who want to use the stations and who want to help pay for the maintenance and operations of the towers.

The bill now goes to the Senate for action.

Adultery

On a 268-29 vote, the House approved repealing the crime of adultery.

While adultery would no longer be a crime, it would remain legal grounds for divorce under state law.

The bill now goes to the Senate for action.

Legal custody

The House approved a bill giving the Division of Children and Youth Services the same standing as a parent or guardian if the child is in state custody.

House Bill 1289 is the result of a court decision noting that a state agency with custody of a child is not a parent or guardian with standing in court in a divorce proceeding.

The bill would give the state agency that standing, but opponents argued the bill sets a dangerous precedent when a state agency has the same standing as a parent or guardian in a divorce case.

The bill passed on a 205-98 vote.

Constitutional amendments

The House killed two proposed constitutional amendments that would change the way judges and the attorney generals are chosen.

CACR 12 would have voters elect all judges and the attorney general, but the House voted 245-74 to kill the proposal.

A constitutional amendment requires three-fifth of House members to approve to send it to the Senate, which also needs a three-fifths majority.

The House voted 233-83 to kill CACR 16, which would have the Legislature instead of the Executive Council to approve judicial nominations.

Payroll cards

Hidden or surprise fees for payroll cards would be a thing of the past under House Bill 1404, which the House passed on a 201-104 vote.

The bill prohibits the fees, requires card companies to provide better access to balances, and to disclose all payment options and transaction fees.

The bill now goes to the Senate Credit Reports. Basing a hiring decision on a person’s credit report would be prohibited under a bill the House passed 184-119.

A similar bill passed the House last year, but was killed in the Senate.

There is no indication the Senate has changed its position on the bill.

Teen driver

Under-aged drivers would be allowed to transport alcohol as long as someone over 21 years old possesses it under a bill approved by the House.

Under current law, under-aged drivers may transport alcohol if accompanied by a family member, guardian or spouse who is 21 years old or older, but no one else.

House Bill 1301 would allow under-aged drivers to transport alcohol in the possession of an adult over 21 years old. The state’s law forbidding an open container in a moving vehicle still applies.

grayno@unionleader.com


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