Senate OKs watered-down workplace breastfeeding bill

Section 179 BPT deduction, ‘Planet Fitness’ fix approved

The NH Senate on Thursday voted to offer breastfeeding employees break time, but not the accommodation that had originally been sought by proponents, and it reiterated support for two business tax breaks.

Senate Bill 488, sponsored by Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, was a reasonable accommodation bill for breastfeeding employees echoing the language of the Americans with Disability Act. Under the bill, the Human Rights Commission would have the power to enforce the measure, with the threat of civil litigation. In addition, the bill would have affected employers with more than six workers, so that it would reach businesses that federal protections can’t touch.

But the bill was amended on the floor Thursday, omitting the word “accommodation,” and instead allowing a “reasonable” break time to express milk as well as a “sanitary” place that is indoors, shielded from view and intrusion and is not a bathroom.

And it would exempt those with fewer than 50 employees if doing this would impose an “undue hardship” or a “significant” expense. And it would be enforced by the Department of Labor with a penalty, not litigation. 

The bill passed by a voice vote, though there appeared to be some tension behind the scenes. It was to be the first bill voted on Thursday, but it was ordered to the end of the calendar, an amendment was offered, tabled, a new amendment substituted, and then the measure passed.  

Section 179 deduction

As for the tax breaks, the Senate approved Senate Bill 552, which would increase the state’s $25,000 cap on the so-called Section 179 expense deduction to the business profits tax to the current federal cap of $500,000, as part of a measure that would have the state in “rolling conformity” with the federal government.

If all businesses took the 179 deduction at once, state revenue would be reduced by about $18 million, according to the Department of Revenue Administration, but the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, said they would eventually have to pay the tax anyhow, so it was “just a matter of timing.”

But Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, noted that the DRA said that the measure wasn’t revenue-neutral because businesses might not pay up later. They may fail, move out of state, or grow out of state so that their in-state taxes will be smaller.

SB 552 passed on an 18-6 vote, along with House Bill 668, sponsored by Sanborn’s wife, Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R- Bedford, that would raise the cap to $100,000.  The Senate amended that bill so it was identical to SB 552, and sent it to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate also passed another version of what has been known as the “Planet Fitness Bill,” so named because the Newington-based fitness franchise threatened to leave the state because it said it would have to pay millions of dollars in taxes when it issued its initial public offering.

Last year, the Senate passed a bill that would exempt the gain in value for such a move from private to publicly held – or the sale of any part of business to another entity – from the business profit tax. The governor vetoed it, but said she was open to a tweak that would prevent business from using it as a tax loophole against paying any capital gain.

The Senate passed SB 342 on a voice vote that tweaked the original bill. The House has already passed HB 1385, its own version of a change.

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