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NH Senate Roundup: Bill to raise the minimum wage in NH is defeated

State House Bureau

March 16. 2017 11:29PM

CONCORD — Bills to raise the minimum wage in New Hampshire and eliminate the one-week waiting period to collect unemployment benefits were defeated by the Republican majority in the state Senate on Thursday.

A proposal to increase the state’s workforce development and training fund from $2 million to $8.5 million was approved in a bipartisan 19-4 vote.

Senate Bill 83 called for the state to break away from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and establish a New Hampshire minimum wage of $8.50 an hour as of September, 2017, rising to $12 an hour by September of 2018.

Sen. Dan Innis, R-New Castle, said that change was “too much, too fast.”

“This will not be sustainable by employers and will lead to a decrease in employment opportunity for young, unskilled workers,” he said.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, challenged the notion that only high school students are working at minimum wage. “There are adults trying to support themselves and their children, working on minimum wage,” she said. “If someone works hard and plays by the rules, they should at least be able to survive. That is a moral imperative.”

Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, cited statistics showing that 76,000 of New Hampshire's 700,000 workers get minimum wage, but 71,000 of those are tipped employees in the hospitality business. Of the 5,000 that remain, none are the primary source of income in a household, he said.

The exchanges grew heated at times, as Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, attempted to cast the debate in the context of income inequality, prompting Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, to order him to stay on topic.

“This is a national trend, and it’s working,” said Woodburn. “In New Hampshire the opportunity gap is growing faster than anywhere else. We know child poverty is going up. We are wearing down the poor and the middle class in this state, making it harder to vote, harder to live, harder to get ahead.”

The bill was defeated in a party line vote, 14-9 (Democratic Sen. Scott McGilvray was absent).

Waiting period remains

The one-week delay in unemployment benefits was introduced as a short-term measure during the Great Recession to ease the burden on the state’s unemployment trust fund, but has remained in place.

“We’re out of the recession and now it’s time to move forward and get rid of it,” said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord.

The Legislative Budget Office estimated that the change would draw an additional $3.4 million annually from the Unemployment Trust Fund because most people who collect unemployment do not do so for the full 26 weeks allowed.

“Consequently, the state will pay for an additional week of unemployment benefits it would not pay for under current law that includes the one week waiting period,” according to the LBO analysis.

The vote to eliminate the waiting period failed in a 12-11 vote that saw two Republicans (Sens. John Reagan and Regina Birdsell) vote with the nine Democrats.

“Based on the fact that New Hampshire has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, and every employer is looking for workers, some find it difficult to understand why anyone would be on the unemployment rolls,” said Sanborn.

Job training approved

Senate Bill 227, which increases funding for job training programs offered by the Department of Resources and Economic Development from $2 million a year to $8.5 million, was passed with broad bipartisan support, 19-4.

“I have spoken with at least 150 businesses,” said Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, “from a one-man garage to the vice president of New Hampshire Ball Bearing, and without exception, they all said their number one problem was the inability to get trained workers from the education pipelines that we have to fit the jobs that they need filled. This program does that.”

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