N.H. Senate passes ‘Pathway to Work’ bill, approves FRM victims’ fund
The Senate passed legislation yesterday that would allow several hundred out-of-work New Hampshire residents to continue receiving unemployment benefits while they launch their own businesses.
“ ‘Pathway to Work’ is a self-employment assistance program that’s aimed at encouraging unemployed workers to create their own jobs, or perhaps provide additional jobs for others, by starting their own small businesses,” said Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, a Concord Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor.
The bill passed on a 19-5 vote, with all five “no” votes coming from Republican senators. The legislation had passed the Senate before, March 7 on a 21-3 vote, and then went to the Finance Committee for a second look before yesterday’s final vote.
It now goes to the House.
Larsen said the new program would build on the state’s existing retraining and job-retention efforts. The bill would allow up to 2.5 percent of the people receiving unemployment benefits in the state to continue receiving benefits if “actively engaged on a full-time basis in activities, which may include training, related to establishing a business and becoming self-employed.”
The participants would also have to meet other conditions. Larsen said the program carries no cost to the state and would benefit a small number of people, primarily older skilled workers.
But Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, said the bill would cost existing businesses money, and create an uneven playing field.
“As a business owner myself, I want everyone to have the opportunity to be successful, to make their own decisions and, on bad days, suffer the ramifications thereof,” Sanborn said. “But remember: This program specifically will be paying people after they start their company, will be paying people to operate companies. . . . Why would we pay the owners of these businesses that start up, but we’re not paying the owners of all the other businesses?”
In other action yesterday, the Senate gave final approval to a bill creating a state “recovery fund” to help reimburse victims of Financial Resources Mortgage, a Meredith-based company that collapsed in late 2009.
FRM, according to later investigations, was engaged in massive fraud that bilked more than 250 investors out of $33 million. The two men who ran it were sent to prison, and a series of reviews faulted state regulatory agencies for failing to stop their crimes.
Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, was one of the bill’s sponsors, along with Manchester Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro.
“If a person decides to become involved with a business that should be regulated by the state but is not, it’d be hard to argue there are grounds for any state recovery assistance. . . . If people invest with a state-regulated entity and that business has managed to fool the regulators – by cooking the books, falsifying records – then, personally, I don’t think that rises to the level where a state recovery might be discussed,” Bragdon said.
“But,” he continued, “when a person suffers a financial loss at the hands of a state-licensed and state-regulated entity who was in clear violation of state laws and rules, and the regulating agency fails to act on those violations, then I think we’ve crossed the line where state recovery assistance should be considered.”
Larsen raised several concerns about the bill and said it could set a bad precedent. But the legislation passed on a voice vote, and now goes to the House.
Like the Pathway to Work bill, the FRM fund had passed the Senate once before. It came back to the floor yesterday with a different funding mechanism: instead of drawing $3 million a year from the state’s general fund, the FRM fund would instead draw money from Department of Justice legal settlements and Bureau of Securities Regulation fines.
MOOSE, elk, teeth, polls
On a 24-0 vote, the Senate passed a bill creating a new college scholarship program: Making Opportunities Occur for Student Excellence, or MOOSE.
The program would provide up to $1,000 a year to full-time students at public universities or community colleges in the state. Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem, has described it as a way to send state money directly to students, in lieu of increasing bottom-line funding for the University System of New Hampshire.
After the bill passed unanimously, Morse moved to table it, a procedural maneuver that will let the Senate add the program to the next state budget when it assembles its version later this spring. The House will vote on its version of the budget next week.
The Senate also, on a voice vote, killed a bill that would have allowed the hunting of red deer and elk in the state.
A bill that would have authorized the job of “dental therapist,” a position midway between a hygienist and a dentist, was sent back to the Senate Health, Education and Human Services Committee on a voice vote for further study.
And on a voice vote, the Senate sent a bill that would rewrite the state’s push-poll law back to the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee for more work. National pollsters have complained that the 1998 law is written so broadly that it can interfere with legitimate opinion surveys.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)