NH House committee OKs $12-a-hour minimum wage

Paid family and medical leave, ban on employment credit checks also gain

The New Hampshire House Labor Committee went for the middle ground on Wednesday, aiming to set a state minimum wage of $12 an hour, the same amount the Senate is considering.

The panel also passed the Senate’s version of a paid family medical leave insurance program and a bill that forbids using credit checks in hiring employees.

The committee had three minimum wage bills with different targets to choose from: $10, $12 and $15 an hour. It recommended killing the first and combined the latter two.

The amended House Bill 186 would increase the minimum to $9.50 an hour next year, $10.75 in 2021 and $12 in 2022, but would stop there. Unlike previous versions, it did not include a cost-of-living adjustment. On Tuesday, the Senate held a hearing on Senate Bill 10, which would have started with a $10 minimum and eventually increase the wage to $12, also with no subsequent cost-of-living adjustment.

New Hampshire currently doesn’t have a minimum wage, defaulting to the federal minimum of $7.25. The surrounding states minimums are all currently above $10 an hour and going up.

The House committee amendment also raises the tipped minimum wage from 45 to 50 percent of the minimum, not the 60 percent proposed in one bill. And it replaced a short-term training wage with a youth minimum that would be $1 below state rate. It was this last minor provision that generated nearly all the debate on the bill, as opposed to raising the wage itself.

“It opens us up to age discrimination, and that’s not something we should be doing,” said Rep Jonathan Mackie, R-Belmont.

But Democrats said current law restricts youth employment, which is a reason – along with their inexperience – to allow a lower rate a page.

Besides, argued Rep. Michael Cahill, D-Newmarket, “This is something that the business community has asked for, and I know we want to be business-friendly.”

The Senate bill also offers a wage of a $1 below the minimum, but starting in 2022, and only for those working for companies that offer 10 paid sick days.

Family and medical leave

The committee passed HB 186 on a party line vote, 12-7, the same margin by which it passed SB 1, the family and medical leave insurance bill, with almost no debate.

SB 1 is similar to HB 712, which has already been passed by the Labor Committee and the full House and is now in the House Finance Committee. It would deduct a half a percent from private employees’ wages to finance a program that would pay 60 percent of wages for those workers who take off up to 12 weeks to care for a family member or themselves.

SB 1’s major difference from the House bill is that it extends the unpaid Federal Family and Medical Leave Act job protection provisions to businesses with 20 employees or more.

Rep. Brian Seaworth, R-Pembroke, expressed concern on that point, but Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham, the committee chair, said, “I think it’s time to move forward on FMLI. It’s been studied for 20 years, deeply vetted and it’s time that one of these bills pass.”

Both bills are expected to pass both chambers in some form, but Governor Sununu has compared that payroll deduction to an income tax, indicating he might veto it. Instead, he is proposing a voluntary bi-state program which would allow private businesses to sign on to a yet-to-be created program that both New Hampshire and Vermont would offer to their state employees.

So far the employees and lawmakers of both states have spurned the government’s proposal, but New Hampshire has moved forward with it, putting out a request for information with a deadline for responses set for Thursday.

According to some of the questions from possible vendors, the state would be open providing the benefit for the state workers first, then rolling it out to private employees. It also is open to the idea that the insurer could exclude workers in those business with a low participation rate.

The Labor Committee also passed HB 293, which would prohibit employers from using credit history in employment decisions.

“Your credit history has noting to do with your ethics and ability to do your job,” said Cahill. “If you have a problem, then you need to pay back those debts and you will need a job to do that.”

Some Republican committee members objected, claiming that exemptions for those jobs where employees have access to cash or credit cards were not clear. But the committee passed the bill, again on party-line vote.

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