Independent contractor bill sparks hard feelings

A bill to require that self-employed people sign a labor form declaring their independent contractor status passed the Senate 16-8 this week on a party-line vote, but it failed in the House.

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-Portsmouth, co-sponsored the legislation to protect workers from exploitation, but voted against it in part because the Senate added the labor form requirement. She said she feared it would mislead both sides. “The form allows an employee to incorrectly represent themselves as an independent contractor under pressure to get the job,” Hassan said.

Her sentiment prevailed in the House, which tabled the bill by a 177-109 vote. It was one of the few casualties Wednesday in the final floor session of the term.

The document would have required that a contractor agree to all five of these statements essential to being one’s own boss: Having a Social Security number or federal tax ID number; controlling the means and manner of doing the job without a boss; making one’s own hours to meet a deadline; hiring one’s own help; and doing business for oneself.

Job candidates also would have affirmed two of these statements: their business depends on its sales and costs; they have ongoing business expenses; they foot the costs of doing the work; they are responsible to get the task done on time and well; they own their own tools and equipment; and they are free to work for other customers.

The form notifies job applicants they are properly classified a contractor if they pass that test.

“If not, you are not properly classified as an independent contractor,” the form goes on. Those words are underlined in capital letters.

Sen. Bob Letourneau, R-Derry, supported the bill and asked Hassan if it wasn’t a good start in the right direction.

“Yes,” she said. “It defines the criteria, something business is eager for. But they will underpay into the workers’ compensation fund.”

Senate Majority Leader Bob Clegg, R-Hudson, sat on the committee of conference that adopted the form and hammered out a compromise between the two chambers.

“We wanted to stop people from pretending to be contractors and then asking for workers’ comp if they get injured,” Clegg said. “Who pays for that? We do. I don’t subscribe to the idea people are too stupid to understand the difference between ‘I work for you’ and ‘I work for me.’”

The atmosphere became quiet when Clegg said a certain lobbyist had just threatened to take him out politically, along with Senate President Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, for backing the bill.

“You can threaten to take me out,” Clegg said. “I don’t care.”

Asked who it was, Clegg named the lobbyist and the union he serves.

“He’s up in the gallery right now,” Clegg said.

Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond, offered to be on that person’s electoral hit list too.

Hassan said an existing study committee could tweak the bill and remove a few flaws. – CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS

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