N.H. House committee votes against minimum wage hike, backs right-to-work

Another panel keeps BPT tax cut alive

Kill a minimum wage increase. Check

Pass right-to-work legislation. Check

Keep a business profits tax cut. Check.

Stop tax haven legislation. Prevent required paid family leave. Allow credit checks when evaluating employees. Check, check, check.

Business groups needed a checklist to keep track of all the bills voted on Tuesday in various legislative committees before next week’s marathon legislative session.

Call it the start of crunch time, the two-minute warning before the legislative halftime known as crossover.

As for the legislation, a bill calling for an increase in the minimum wage went down in a party-line vote in the House Labor Committee.

Rep. Andrew White, D-Lebanon, offered a last-minute amendment, knocking down the rate from $14.25 to $10 over three years and killing a clause tying future increases to the consumer price index. That puts the bill in line with a measure bill heard by the Senate Finance Committee later on Tuesday.

But White’s amendment didn’t sway any votes. Most Republicans not only spoke against this minimum wage increase proposal, but any increase, arguing that it will pressure all wages to rise, resulting in a cutback of hours and employment.

“When wages go up, unemployment goes up, workers’ compensation goes up. It wasn’t the wage increase, but all the other things that is a job-killer,” said Rep. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster.

White pointed to 11 states that have passed an increased minimum wage, and, on the whole, both wages and employment have increased there, but he might as well have been talking to the wind.

Only Rep. Will Infantine, R-Manchester, chair of the committee, seemed sympathetic, saying he would have supported a more modest wage increase – before voting “reluctantly” to kill the bill.

“I don’t want to be the Mississippi of New England. New Hampshire should hold itself to a little higher standard,” Infantine said.

The Labor Committee also voted to kill House Bill 365, which would have prohibited an employer from using credit history in making an employment decision.

It also passed right-to-work legislation, despite White’s argument that a vote against the measure was about “keeping the government out of the employer-employee relationship.”

But the bill, should it be approved by the whole House and Senate, is expected to be vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

While the House Labor Committee was keeping workers’ benefits and rights in check, the House Way and Means Committee was trying to keep the lid on business taxes and regulations.

Without debate, it retained HB 386, which would cut the business profits tax from 8.5 percent to 7 percent, starting in July, by a party-line 14-7 vote.

Earlier, the committee’s Senate counterparts went a little bit further in a Senate Bill 1, cutting the rate to 6.9 percent over six years. The Senate committee also passed SB 2, which would have cut the business enterprise tax rate. Both bills are expected to be voted on by the full Senate Thursday, but the final tax cut, if there is any, will have to be worked out in budget negotiations.

The House Ways and Means committee also voted to kill a bill that would have toughened up the state’s tax haven laws and beat back an attempt to spread a job creation tax credit from Coos County to Carroll County.

More obscure bills were voted on as well. Among them were HB 655, which that would have given $2 million in tax credits to the film industry.

“Why should we do anything special for an industry that has not contributed anything in our economy for two decades, since ‘Golden Pond’?” asked Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett.

But Rep. Don Leeman, R-Rochester, countered: “The reason it hasn’t done anything since ‘Golden Pond’ was that we don’t have a tax credit.”

The committee voted. 11-10, to retain the bill, and then reversed itself, 11-10, to kill it.

One of the biggest debates at the House Commerce Committee was over HB 137, which attempts to prevent insurers from canceling or not renewing policies when homeowners inquire directly whether their policy would cover a loss. It does so by preventing insurers from counting “claims” where no payment is made.

“They want to cancel you,” said Rep. Ken Gidge, D-Nashua, “so they can add you back at a higher rate. That’s just not fair.”

But the committee’s chair, Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, argued against the bill, saying that homeowners should know better than to approach the insurer directly. Instead, they should work through their agent.

“The biggest consumer protection is a competitive marketplace, and if you pass this, it is another straw on the camel’s back to prevent insurers from saying, ‘I’m not going to do business in New Hampshire anymore,’” Hunt said.

The committee voted to kill the bill, 12-8.

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