N.H. House has a full plate of bills

Workers with their hours cut should be able to collect unemployment benefits, even though they are still employed.Hospitals and insurers should collectively pay a $250,000 fee to study why the cost of health care is going up.Vendors who repeatedly sell lots of knock-off items could now be considered felons under state law.And the exemption for property tax on telephone poles may finally be ended.With all the focus on whether the House will or won’t go ahead with gambling Wednesday – despite threats of a gubernatorial veto – there are several other bills coming up that directly affect businesses likely to pass.There are also numerous business bills in the Senate, but NHBR plans to report on these bills after the Senate acts on them.It looks like the Gov. John Lynch’s “stay at work” initiative, Senate Bill 501, is on its way to becoming law. The bill would allow employees to collective prorated benefits if their hours were cut, providing a way for employers to keep well-trained workers on the payroll, rather than laying some off entirely and perhaps losing them when the businesses need to rehire them. The Committee on Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services unanimously recommended the full House pass the bill with a minor amendment that clarified that those part-time workers would be able to keep their benefits.The bill would also pass the “ready to work” part of the initiative, which would allow unemployment fund training programs – heretofore restricted those already working – to be used for unemployed workers, who would be able to collect benefits while being trained. The mother of all health-care cost studies isn’t cheap. SB505 would try to find out why medical costs are going up, but will add to those costs a bit while studying it.This bill is supposed to be distinct from SB392, which calls for an annual hearing about why insurance rates go up. The commission on health-care cost will be able to “solicit” data from insurers and hospitals, with “all other powers necessary to accomplish its purposes,” with the idea of implementing comprehensive payment reform that will minimize cost shifting, so that “consumers will be able to predict and manage their own medical care expenses.”The state needs some money, however, to reach such lofty goals – $250,000 to be precise – and given the budgetary situation, that money isn’t coming out of the general fund. Instead health carriers will pay half proportioned by gross premiums written, and the other half would come from hospitals and ambulatory clinics, in proportion to net operating revenue.Vendors who sell knock-off goods are on the wrong side of the federal law, as evidence by recent raids and law suits against a Derry flea market. Now, if SB394 becomes law, “dealing in counterfeit goods” will be elevated to a class B felony after the first offense. The initial offense would be just a misdemeanor. The House also amended the Senate version of the bill to make it clear that selling 25 items bearing a counterfeit mark is evidence of intent to sell knock offs.And finally, for the sixth time, the House will revisit the debate as to whether telephone poles should be taxed. The legislature has extended the “temporary” exemption – passed in 1998 – five times already, but the committee recommends that the exemption should not be extended this time on a 15-4 vote.It doesn’t make sense that the poles are taxed when used by the phone company and not by the electric company, the committee maintains. Supporters of the exemption argue that phone companies pay a communication tax, but opponents point out the tax is passed on to consumers in their bill, just like the electric companies do for their tariffs. Still, exemption supporters say it’s bad timing with FairPoint Communications, which owns most of the state’s land lines, in bankruptcy. But if FairPoint emerges from bankruptcy free of debt, it will be a great time to end it, responded the critics. Stay tuned to the outcome of that one. – BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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