NH Senate panel hears bill targeting ‘self-appointed financial elites’

Critics charge ‘ideological discrimination’ bill would tie businesses’ hands

Business groups lined up Tuesday to denounce a bill that could hold businesses criminally liable or force them to pay triple damages if they discriminate against someone for their ideological views or social media posts.

“Each of us has a boogeyman that we do not want to do business with because you don’t like their views,” Glenn Perlow, president of the NH Trust Council, told the Senate Commerce Committee. “That’s kind of the American way.”

But House lawmakers supporting House Bill 1469 presented it as a way to stop businesses from infringing on a citizen’s freedom.

The question, said bill sponsor Rep JD Bernardy, R-South Hampton, is whether we be ruled by a “self-appointed financial elite” or governed by “elected representatives,” whether we “retain our individual liberties” or “be forced to bend our knees to our financial betters.”

Bernardy went on to attack the “godless elites,” especially those that embrace environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles when it comes to investing in companies. They have “weaponized a 30-year social investing strategy and turned it into a tool of economic coercion similar to China.”

The bill – which would be the first of its kind in the nation, though other states are considering similar legislation – starts out focused on banks and credit unions which would be barred from discriminating based on “ideological, philosophical, or political views and opinions,” including social media posts, browsing history and gun ownership, though there is an exemption if there are safety concerns.

The bill then goes on to amend the state’s Consumer Protection Act, which bars all businesses – except those regulated by another agency, like the Banking Department – from inserting similar anti-discrimination language. Businesses that violate the CPA could face felony charges, with a maximum penalty of a year in prison, or civil penalties which include triple challenges, pointed the attorney general’s office.

The Banking Department would also have a tough time, especially since many of the large financial institutions cited by the bill’s supporters – including TD Bank, and Bank of America – are regulated by the federal government, not the state.

“We have received no complaints about anything that has been mentioned today,” said Banking Commissioner Emelia Galdieri.

“There are those business that agree with ESG. They want to work with companies with certain values. If customers don’t like what their banks doing, there are a lot of options, said Kristy Merrill, president of the Many of the NH Bankers Association.

She added, “I’m not aware of any of our members using social credit scores,” when it came to individual customers.

She also said the bill’s broad parameters on what constitutes discrimination could result in litigation, even if banks denied some people for legitimate reasons. “Banks might make loans that they otherwise wouldn’t, and it will increase the cost of lending and doing business,” she said.

It also could prevent banks from dealing with “disgruntled employees who are offensive to bank employees, people who are saying hateful, racist, sexist remarks,” as well as interfere with normal personnel practices, like checking up on an employee’s social media posts. “That could be grounds for litigation,” she said.

For Perlow, “this bill takes a view that says a that a certain viewpoint should quash the freedom-loving nature of businesses doing business in New Hampshire and their rights to free association. I’ve never seen a bill more big government. This bill kind of conscripts businesses in New Hampshire into doing a battle that they may not have chosen and dictates who they can do business with.”

It wasn’t just banks that opposed the legislation.

Realtors could also face triple damages “if someone doesn’t want to do business with a fascist, or even an anti-fascist. Licensees should have the right not to do business with either side of the aisle, “ said Chris Norwood, who chairs the NH Association of Realtors’ public policy committee.

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem,” testified Kirsten Koch, director of public policy at the Business & Industry Association. “It is nearly impossible to enforce. There is no way to show that this discrimination has taken place.”

The questioning indicated that committee members were not thrilled in the bill.

“It could drive up the cost of credit and drive out potential lenders in a state that relies on small business,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.

Even Sen. William Gannon, R-Sandown – who made it clear he disagreed with what he called the “woke agenda” – said he was concerned about the bill. He considered a bank that didn’t want to lend to a marijuana business because it disagreed with that business. “You are going to sue me because I don’t want to give people a loan?” asked one of the bill’s supporters.

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