March 17 - Minimum Wage Could Be Going Up IN NH

This Article Appeared in the E-Ticker News March 17, 2014

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

Minimum Wage Could Be Going Up In NH

Minimum wage workers in our state could soon get an overdue raise, if New Hampshire!s House of Representatives gets its way.

On March 12 by a 173-118 roll call vote, the House adopted House Bill 1403, which has a number of provisions regarding the minimum wage. First, it would re-establish New Hampshire!s official minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which was abolished by the previous legislature in 2011. Second, it would raise the wage by one dollar to $8.25 per hour on Jan. 1, 2015. Third, it would raise the wage by another 75 cents to $9.00 per hour, effective Jan. 1, 2016. Fourth and finally, starting on Sept. 1, 2016, future minimum wage increases would be tied to the national CPI (Consumer Price Index) so as to keep up with inflation. 

House Bill 1403's adoption followed sharp debate on the House floor, and an earlier recommendation by a majority of the House Labor, Industrial, & Rehabilitative Services Committee to approve the bill. The bill now moves to the New Hampshire Senate where it faces much tougher scrutiny. 

During the debate, the bill's proponents, including Chichester Rep. Sally Kelly, who is also its prime sponsor, declared that raising the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour would benefit nearly 76,000 New Hampshire workers, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data done by the Economic Policy Institute.

Furthermore, Rep. Kelly, added that about two-thirds of these 76,000 workers are adults over age 20, and one-third of these same workers are over age 30. She stated that 76 percent of all New Hampshire voters favor raising the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour, including 91 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Independents, and even 64 percent of Republicans. Finally, she said that even two-thirds of small business owners supported raising the Federal Minimum Wage to $10.10 per hour, which is actually $1.10 per hour higher than the wage determined by House Bill 1403, according to one nationwide survey. She declared that the majority of small business owners support such a hike is that it would “help the economy because people with the lowest incomes are likely to spend any pay increases.” 

Nevertheless, House Bill 1403 opponents, including Milford Rep. Gary Daniels, stated that “employers are best positioned to determine the financial benefit an individual will bring to that business.” They added that increasing the minimum wage would force many businesses to not only hike the wages of entry level employees, but also the wages of more experienced employees so as to maintain an appropriate wage difference between the two levels of employees. Such hikes could cause economic hardship on many businesses, especially smaller ones. Consequently, such businesses could reduce employee benefits, reduce employee hours, cut jobs, and/or hire only older, experienced employees at the expense of younger and inexperienced employees. They also claimed that some businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry such as hotels and restaurants, might close their doors. Finally, they objected to the bill!s provision that future minimum wage hikes be tied to the rate of inflation as determined by the CPI, which they said was based only on the national and not New Hampshire!s economy. 

For readers' information, I did vote for House Bill 1403. I believe raising the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour over the next two years, and then tying any future minimum wage hikes to inflation as determined by the CPI is a good idea that will increase the pay of many workers in entry level as well as middle level jobs, who have been struggling to make ends meet over the last few years. Increased pay that most of them will spend for such needed goods and services as food, clothing, shelter, and gas, among other items and spending which would boost the amount of money coming into such businesses as stores, restaurants, and gas stations. 

Also on March 12 the House approved House Bill 1170, which would totally repeal New Hampshire's death penalty that has been in effect since 1734. The bill was approved by a 225-104 roll call vote after an emotional debate on the House floor as well as a positive Ought to Pass recommendation by a majority of the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee. 

House Bill 1170 proponents led by Hampton Rep. Robert Cushing, the bill's prime sponsor, stated that our state's death penalty should be repealed because does not work as “ a matter of public policy,” and is a “distraction” from addressing important criminal justice issues. Rep. Cushing, whose father and brother-in-law were both murdered, declared that that capital punishment doesn!t “protect public safety,” doesn!t “shield our police officers,“ and doesn!t “meet the needs of many families of murder victims.” Furthermore, he said that the bill which would replace the death penalty for committing certain murders with the punishment of life imprisonment without parole would actually save the state money spent in going through the process of executing death row convicts, of which there is now one as of today. Finally, he concluded that the death penalty is “not consistent” with the religious values of a majority of our population.

However, House Bill 1170 opponents, like Merrimack Rep. Jeannine Notter, declared that the death penalty has been used sparingly in New Hampshire, in comparison to many other states. They pointed out that only 24 people have been executed in our state since 1734, and no one since 1939. They added that the current death penalty only applies to certain murders such as those of police officers and homicides committed during home invasions. 

Additionally, opponents introduced several unsuccessful amendments to House Bill 1170, including one by Bedford Rep. Keith Murphy, which keep the death penalty for children under age 12. But this amendment was stopped by a persuasive speech given by Claremont Rep. Raymond Gagnon, a former Chief U.S. Marshal, who said he used to favor capital punishment, until he realized one day that such punishment is not worthy of our moral values.