CONCORD, NH — Once again, the Senate voted down along party lines an attempt to raise the state’s minimum wage Thursday.
Senate Bill 136 would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10 on Jan. 1, 2022, and to $12 on Jan. 1, 2024.
Supporters said the wage has not been increased in 14 years and the state relies on the federal minimum wage having repealed its own in 2011.
They said increasing the wage will help lift people out of poverty and off public assistance while helping stabilize the state’s recovering economy.
“Unfortunately there is the perception and concern we don’t value workers the way our neighbors do,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester. “New Hampshire workers in the service industry go to neighboring states where they are guaranteed to make a higher wage.”
But opponents argued raising the minimum wage would prevent workers trying to break into the workforce from finding jobs and would cut hours for minimum wage earners.
“We have to be honest about what such an increase would mean,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “Conversations about the minimum wage should be based on economics, instead of emotions because raising it so dramatically could lead to unintended consequences and adversely impact the people it is trying to help. Raising the wage helps some people but others lose their jobs.”
He referred to a report by the Congressional Budget Office concerning the federal proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour which said it would eliminate 1.4 million jobs, 13,000 in New Hampshire.
“Small to midsize businesses would be hurt the most because they would be forced to raise their prices to make up for additional labor costs and likely lay off employees,” he said. “As our economy continues to get stronger as we come out of the pandemic, we want to create more job opportunities for Granite Staters, not less.”
But Soucy said her bill addresses the situation in New Hampshire – not Washington – noting businesses are currently paying $10 an hour to workers just to show up.
The current minimum wage would mean a person working full time would earn $15,000 a year which is below the federal poverty level and makes them eligible for public assistance, she said.
Taxpayers are subsidizing low-paying companies, she noted, while raising the minimum wage will help rebuild the state’s economy, help attract younger workers to the state, and be an investment for the future.
The Senate voted down party lines 14-10 to kill Senate Bill 136.
The Senate also voted down a bill that would allow people to vote by absentee ballot without having to provide a reason for doing so, in a 14-10 party-line vote.
The supporters of Senate Bill 47 said the most recent election, which allowed for expanded absentee voting due to the pandemic, produced a record number of voters and absentee ballots cast.
“This bill allows people throughout the state who are registered voters to participate in elections in a safe manner for them,” said Soucy. “I have not been a proponent for this, but I have come to see the importance of people’s constitutional rights to decide who speaks for them.”
But opponents said there are ample reasons for people to vote by absentee ballot and there is no reason to expand the list of allowable reasons.
Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, said the current practice does not appear to block anyone from voting.
The only ones who want to vote absentee without a reason are the ones too lazy to go to the polls on election day, he said.
The Senate voted 20-4 to tighten the restrictions for people deemed dangerous being held before their trial.
The bill would walk back some of the reforms the Legislature adopted several years ago, while retaining the intent of not holding people in jail before trial because they cannot afford bail.
“Under this bill, violent offenders would be held until a judge determined whether or not they could be safely released on bail and those violent offenses are now clearly spelled out,” said Bradley. “We need this clarification because, under our current rules, recently adopted under SB 556, defendants cannot be denied bail simply because they cannot afford it.”
He said the law was well-intentioned, but when put into practice, some violent offenders were released, and repeat offenses occurred.
“Cleary, this has undermined public safety,” Bradley said. “People who are a danger to the public or who fail to abide by their conditions of release should not be granted bail.”
The Senate approved Senate Bill 155 which puts into statute executive orders issued by the governor.
- Create the position of Temporary Health Partner to help long-term care facilities address staffing shortage;
- Authorize emergency licensing of medical provider;
- Authorize COVID-19 testing and vaccination by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians;
- Allow out-of-state pharmacies to ship investigational drugs to clinical trial participants;
- Protect summer camps forced to close last summer;
- Allow construction projects to continue should municipalities close their offices,
- Temporarily expand outdoor dining.
The Senate also passed:
Senate Bill 3, which exempts federal Paycheck Protection Program grants from state business taxes.
Senate Bill 116, which requires the Department of Transportation to complete the I-93, Exit 4a project along the Derry/Londonderry town line within the Ten-Year Transportation Improvement Plan. The department halted work on the project when construction bids far exceeded cost estimates.
Senate Bill 117, which would require the Department of Transportation to remove the northbound and the southbound exit 10 tolls on the F.E. Everett Turnpike in Merrimack. The bill will go to the Senate Finance Committee for review.
Senate Bill 96 requires implicit bias training for judges; establishing a body-worn and dashboard camera, and juvenile delinquency. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for review.
Senate Bill 141 would have the Federal Bureau of Investigation provide the information for a firearm background check instead of the state’s “gun line” in the division of State Police. The bill will now go to the Senate Finance Committee for review.
The Senate re-referred:
Senate Bill 156, which would require the state to manage a new secure psychiatric unit facility and not contract for the operation of the yet-to-be-built facility.
Senate Bill 39, which would exempt information and records contained in law enforcement personnel files from disclosure under the right-to-know law.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.