Legislators focus on jobs

Bills in Concord: Business owners weigh in on potential impacts

  • Bill Littles, co-owner of Steele's Stationary in Peterborough, talks about the possible affects a change in the minimum wage would have on his small business.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

Multiple bills proposed this legislative season have the potential to affect local businesses and employees . While some initiatives were quashed in committee, others have passed the hurdles of both the House and Senate and are on their way to being signed into law.

Those who think the state minimum wage is a little low at $7.25 and hour will be disappointed to learn that two House bills proposing to raise it were killed in committee in March. The House found both HB 241, which would have raised the tax rate to $9.25 per hour, and HB 127, which would have raised it to $8, inexpedient to legislate.

The current minimum wage matches the federal minimum wage requirement. Had New Hampshire raised it to $9.25, the state would have had the highest minimum wage in the country, more than the current leader, Washington State, which has a minimum wage of $9.19.

State Rep. Harry Young (D-Jaffrey) said Thursday in a phone interview that the minimum wage should have been looked at and raised. Two dollars at once could have had unforeseen impacts, but bringing it to $8 per hour would have been a reasonable compromise, he said.

“We haven’t raised it in a very long time. While I can’t imagine raising it $2 at one time, the 75 cents seems to make sense to me,” Young said.

But Rep. Jim Parison (R-New Ipswich ) disagreed, saying there is already a federal minimum wage, and there is no need for states to put their own minimum wages in place.

Bill Littles, owner of Steele’s Stationers on Main Street in Peterborough, said Thursday that if the minimum wage did increase, it might affect his hiring practices. Currently, the store often hires high school teenagers for part-time work, but a higher minimum wage might induce him to hire more experienced workers, he said.

That said, he added, a higher minimum wage might raise the overall level of commerce in the state. “It helps the consumer, which we need. If they’re not being paid, they’re not going to spend the money,” Littles said.

New Hampshire is lagging behind surrounding states in several areas, including minimum wage, he said, which has caused an exodus of the younger generation who leave the area for jobs and schooling, and don’t return. And that’s the generation that has the most in terms of disposable income to create the consumer culture. New Hampshire has the lowest minimum wage of its three surrounding states: Maine’s minimum wage is $7.50 per hour, Massachusetts’ is $8 and Vermont’s is $8.60. “We can’t keep going that way,” he said.

Amy Noel, owner of Alice Blue in Peterborough’s Depot Square , said a change in the minimum wage wouldn’t much impact her business, as she and her mother run the business. But she said she feels strongly that the minimum wage in New Hampshire is too low and it’s time to raise it.

“If we ever hired a part-time employee, we would pay way above the minimum wage,” she said. “I just think it should be raised. With the cost of living these days, it’s the only way people can keep their head above water.”

Start-up business
opportunity for unemployed

One recently passed bill is important, not to current business owners, but to those looking to start one. Senate Bill 143 will establish a self-employment assistance program in the state’s Department of Employment Security to pay benefits to those who are unemployed, but attempting to start their own businesses. Those participating will receive an allowance from the program, instead of unemployment benefits, the same amount as with regular unemployment benefits, but there are a few conditions people seeking to start new businesses wouldn’t have to meet.

First off, those seeking to start a new business wouldn’t have to be actively seeking a new job, while receiving the benefit, and would be exempt from the rules surrounding refusal of work. But with that leeway comes some conditions. The new entrepreneur would need to prove that he or she is actively engaged, on a full-time basis in activities, which may include training, related to establishing a business and becoming self-employed. For any week they are not involved in that process, they do not receive benefits.

The bill has been passed in both the House and the Senate, but has yet to be signed into law.

Rep. Parison noted that the bill was a fairly partisan one, with Democrats carrying it. He said that, while in concept the bill was a good one, the Republican consensus was that it would simply be too easy to cheat the system and collect unemployment while claiming to be starting a business.

“It’s something of an enforcement issue,” he said. “It seems difficult to prove whether or not someone is working hard to get their business running. At first wash, it seems like a good idea, and I’m all for entrepreneurship. It just seems like it would be too easy to manipulate.”

But the Democrats carried the day, passing the bill 19 to 5 in the Senate and 183 to 149 in the House.

Protecting credit scores

Proposed House Bill 357 would extend discrimination rights beyond ethnicity, gender or orientation, and protect a potential employee from being discriminated against by a potential employer, based on their credit score.

If the bill passes, it will be unlawful for an employer to require a credit check in connection with or criteria for decisions on hiring, termination, promotion or demotion.

Rep. Young said he was in favor of the bill. “I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Young of employers requiring credit checks. “I don’t think that has bearing on the quality of the job they’re going to do.”

Parison voted against it. “I think employers should be able to see any information a bank or other institution could see. Why should they be restricted from being able to see publicly available information?” he asked. Parison also noted that the bill addresses the ways an employee can be paid . If an employer offers direct deposit, they would no longer be required to offer employees a physical check. They could, however, offer a payroll card, which is like a prepaid debit card, should the employee opt out of direct deposit. He said employees should have more choices in how they receive their pay, not less.

Immigration issue tabled

Under the proposed bill HB 149, public employers would be required to register and participate in a pilot program to verify whether its employees are eligible to work in the U.S. While “public” in this case refers to departments or agencies of the state, it would also extend to every contractor or subcontractor that enters into a contract with a public employer, which could affect privately owned businesses. And contracts that a contractor has with a public employer would be cancelled, if the business is not in compliance; they would not be eligible to enter into any contract with a public employer for three years after the cancellation. The bill has been retained by a House committee for further study.

Parison said that the bill was sponsored entirely by Republicans, and it is likely the bill wasn’t brought forward because it wasn’t likely to pass in the Democratic-controlled House.

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