N.H. Senate votes for minimum wage measure

When the Senate passed the minimum wage increase for all employees – including tipped workers – its spokesman came from an unexpected source, a letter by the owner of three McDonald’s franchises in Manchester, read by Senator Jack Barnes (R-Raymond).

Much of the discussion surrounded an amendment to the bill authored by Sen. Joseph Kenney (R-Union), who proposed freezing the wages of tipped employees at $2.38, as opposed to going up to $3.36.

The New Hampshire Restaurant and Lodging Association has strongly backed the amendment, which was dismissed by the Senate Commerce committee, because not all workers get enough in tips to make up the difference. But on the Senate floor, the main argument against the amendment came from the pen of Ron Evans, who owned the three franchises.

Evans argued that it was unfair that untipped workers at fast-food restaurants have to pay the full freight of the minimum wage increase from $5.15 an hour to $6.50 an hour in September and $7.25 an hour by September 1, 2008, while competitors at casual restaurants will continue to pay waiters and waitresses a third as much.

Casual restaurants and fast-food restaurants are getting in an increasingly competitive situation, said Evans. Fast-food restaurants are trying to upgrade their offerings and services, while casual restaurants are increasing their take out and express services.

Raising the minimum wage without a proportionate increase in the tipped wage would give “a competitive edge” to casual restaurants, Evans said.

The Senate voted down the amendment 6-18, with even minority leader Bob Clegg (R-Hudson) voting against it (though Clegg also voted against the entire bill). The Senate then went on to pass the bill 19-5 to the governor, who is planning to sign it.

In other business legislation the Senate:

• In a unanimous roll call vote, passed HB873, a bill that would require that utilities use of certain percentage of renewable energy in their portfolios. Supporters said this would help build up the alternative energy infrastructure in the state.

• Passed HB169, which would allow the insurance commissioner to take action against insurers and adjusters who knowingly underestimate the value of an insurance claim. That bill doesn’t go as far of an earlier Senate bill, which would allow consumers to sue insurance companies for such unfair trade practices under the Consumer Protection Act.

• Passed HB361, a bill that would require the Public Utilities Commission to hire a consultant to examine the proposed sale by Verizon of its land lines in the state to FairPoint Communication, at the expense of the two companies. Supporters argued that it was important to ensure that consumers in the state get high-speed broadband service, in order to help the high-tech economy here. — BOB SANDERS

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