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July 28. 2014 11:53AM

Hassan vetoes bill to impose 'politeness' standards on public employees

Gov. Maggie Hassan on Monday vetoed legislation that was designed to create a "positive work environment" for public employees, a bill she warned would have led to a flood of lawsuits against the state and disrupt workplace supervision.

She called some of the provisions of House Bill 591 poorly defined and unworkable.

"The bill also attempts to legislate politeness, manners and the interpersonal relationships of co-workers," Hassan, a Democrat, wrote in her veto message.

She feared that the provisions -- which required policy statements against abusive workplace conduct, a complaint procedure, and conflict resolution assistance -- would eventually be expanded to private sector employees.

Two business groups applauded her veto.

The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Dianne Schuett, D-Pembroke, said it gained bipartisan support because lawmakers heard complaints from so many public workers who felt bullied and intimated at their jobs.

The existing avenues available to them -- a union grievance or a complaint before the Public Employee Labor Relations Board -- often end up in more intimidation, Schuett said.

The legislation would have incorporated language prohibiting abusive work environments under the state's Whistleblower Proction Act.

She said she heard from 40 to 50 workers after she agreed to sponsor the bill. Employees become depressed; many seek counseling under the Employee Assistance Program. Others retire.

“I know she (Hassan) got a great deal of push back from all her commissioners,” Schuett said.

In her veto message, Hassan feared workers would claim an unreasonable workload, even if it was similar to their co-workers. She felt constructive criticism would be prohibited, and a supervisor who didn't say hello could be branded abusive.

Organizations representing both large and small employers applauded Hassan for vetoing the bill.

“Although House Bill 591 focuses specifically on public sector employers, (the Business and Industry Association) is concerned the private sector would be the next logical target,” reads a statement issued by the BIA.

“Governor Hassan has made exactly the right decision for New Hampshire's small business community and for the state's economy,” said Bruce Berke, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Signing the bill would have been the easy thing to do. She did the right thing instead and that's great to see in politics these days.”

mhayward@unionleader.com



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