‘Working to make a difference’

I doubt there’s a senator among us this year who hasn’t heard from one or more of our constituents facing job loss, foreclosure or a health crisis for which they lack insurance.

While the news reports remain as varied as ever, for many people there’s only one story – how to survive in this economy.

It’s with these people in mind that the Senate passed on to the House several initiatives intended to assist the unemployed, expand access to health insurance and protect and expand jobs.

We’ve eased restrictions on employee leasing companies to encourage their expansion and growth in New Hampshire. Employee leasing often is more attractive to businesses in an uncertain economy and it provides another job option for many workers.

We’ve protected our retailers from being forced to collect taxes on behalf of the state of Massachusetts.

We supported our auto dealerships in renegotiating rules with the auto manufacturers. These changes to state law should help more local dealers survive these difficult times, keep their workers employed and attract car buyers.

We’ve been quick to respond to opportunities presented by federal stimulus funds – passing a bill to make it easier for cities and towns to hold special town meetings to accept federal money for stimulus projects. We’ve passed a bill to capture federal dollars to expand broadband access around the state. This initiative is particularly critical to our rural areas where jobs, business growth and improved access to specialized health care depend on access to high-speed Internet.

We’re enabling our state transportation officials to move more quickly on construction projects using a cheaper and more efficient design-build process.

For workers who still have a job, we’ve passed a bill to ensure larger employers give them some warning if there’s to be a mass layoff or closure. Employers have nothing to fear from the bill, since there are many exemptions for anyone acting in good faith. But it would protect workers from a situation that occurred recently when out-of-state investors bought a New Hampshire company, drained its assets and then shut its doors without paying workers what they were owed. No individual business owner or investor would be liable, but the law would strengthen our ability to require a parent company in this scenario to pay back wages and other benefits.

We’ve also passed legislation on unemployment benefits. By expanding access in two new categories, we qualified for an additional $20 million in federal aid to our unemployment trust fund. We continue to work with our business community to ensure adequate funding remains to provide benefits to those who are unemployed in this difficult time.

This year, the Senate also continued to work on expanding access to health care by addressing the group least likely to have insurance – young people ages 19-25. By working with our own Healthy Kids Corp., we’ve figured out a way to offer an affordable policy to our young people for about $170 per month. It also encourages young people to buy into the health insurance system while they’re still young and healthy – something that stands to benefit us all.

While this work doesn’t always make the headlines, we’re working to make a difference. To those who are struggling, the message in all this is that we hear you and we’re doing what we can to help.

Democrat Sylvia Larsen is president of the New Hampshire Senate.

Categories: Opinion