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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Hassan, state employees union clash over veto

The state’s largest public employee union is not happy with Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Neither, for that matter, are lawmakers who worked for two years on a bill aimed at addressing workplace bullying of and by state employees.

Hassan vetoed the bill Monday, leaving union members feeling like she didn’t fully hear their concerns and wishing she would have done more, such as issuing an executive order aimed at addressing some of the problems. One senator has called for a veto override, which requires two-thirds support of each legislative body, and it’s very possible that will happen.

“There is a very real, pervasive and serious problem in state government with bullying,” said Rep. Andy White, a Lebanon Democrat and chairman of the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee, which took testimony on the bill. “Get (an) executive order out, put (a) commission together by executive order and address the very real problem instead of just sitting back and just saying no because no doesn’t solve the problem.”

The bill, deemed the “Healthy Workplace Bill,” would have required employers – meaning “any branch, department, commission, bureau, agency, or agent of the state of New Hampshire”, excluding towns and cities – to develop written policies prohibiting abusive conduct and explaining the procedure for employees to report and resolve conflicts. The bill defined abusive conduct as anything ranging from “constant and harsh displays of disrespect” to “constant and unreasonable criticism which is not part of a typical evaluation process.”

Hassan vetoed it, in part, because she thought it was too broad and would invite unnecessary litigation.

“What’s really important here is it’s important that we not try to legislate politeness and interpersonal relationships, which are different and perceived differently by lots of different people,” Hassan said in an interview Friday.

House Bill 591 grew out of a resolution passed by the State Employees Association’s highest governing body in 2012. The union represents roughly 11,500 public and private employees in New Hampshire, and President Diana Lacey says there is a pervasive culture of bullying in the workplaces for state employees. The House Labor committee took testimony for hours on the bill in 2013. The Senate held onto the bill for a year and introduced a more detailed version this year, which passed that chamber on a voice vote.

Hassan and her administration never hid the fact that they did not like the bill and did have conversations with legislators and union members about it, so the veto was not a surprise, Lacey said. During committee of conference, the governor’s office offered a version of the bill that would’ve let a commission made up of agency heads and representatives from four unions, among others, create the policies, rather than individual employers. Hassan said her administration “indicated a willingness to compromise,” but the Senate wanted to keep the bill as it was.

Even if Hassan didn’t want to sign the bill, Lacey said executive orders could have dealt with some of the problems, such as an order requiring agency heads and the division of personnel to develop a concrete policy and reporting structure for workplace abuse. By issuing the veto without an accompanying executive order, Lacey and state employees are feeling like the governor left them out in the cold. That feeling only deepened when Hassan mentioned opposition to the bill from the Business and Industry Association, a private lobbying firm, in her veto message.

“If you’re going to veto issue an executive order first, demonstrate that you’re going to take the subject matter seriously,” Lacey said. “One of the things that is particularly disappointing is the veto message uses the private lobbying group, the BIA, as the rationale for vetoing the bill with public employees. We are her employees, we are not employees of the private sector.”

In her veto message, Hassan said the BIA was concerned about the overly broad restrictions spilling over into private workplaces, which Hassan said would “be counter-productive to the efforts of our innovative businesses to grow and create good jobs.”

White said he felt the BIA argument was a “red herring.” The text of the bill said the law would apply to an employee of “any branch, department, commission, bureau, institution, or agency of the state government including employees of the general court, the retirement system, the judicial system, and the community college system.”

In an interview, Hassan noted state employees received a raise under her administration and that one of her first acts as governor was creating an online training program about respect in the workplace for managers and supervisors and that she sent an email about the matter to all state employees. When asked if she planned to issue executive orders, Hassan did not give a clear answer but said she remains open to bringing people together and listening to ideas.

“I have the deepest respect for them and know they’re disappointed with my veto, and I wish that weren’t the case,” Hassan said. “But my job is to look at whether a particular piece of legislation is actually workable to address the issue that the people who filed it wanted it to address and I don’t think as written it was workable.”

Still, advocates of the bill say more needs to be done to solve the problem.

“I think that this is one of those unfortunate times where the power of the governor’s office could have been a leader in these debates and instead it took the back seat,” Lacey said.

Ayotte in the middle

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte has become a pawn in the Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen campaigns’ sparring over immigration.

Brown has centered his message for the past two weeks, through town halls and television ads, on the border crisis, alleging the tens of thousands of children streaming over the border is the result of the “Obama-Shaheen amnesty policies.” The two have backed certain actions, such as the DREAM Act and deferred action for children brought here illegally, which Brown says have created incentives for people to come here illegally.

Democrats, however, have been quick to say that if Brown is attacking Shaheen, he must be attacking Ayotte as well because the two both voted for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last year. That bill included provisions for strengthening the border as well as the Dream Act and an eventual path to citizenship for people already here, among other things.

“The fact is that Jeanne Shaheen voted to strengthen border security with comprehensive immigration reform, just like Kelly Ayotte,” Shaheen campaign spokesman Harrell Kristein said in this week in response to several attacks on Shaheen’s record from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

While that bill is the most significant piece of immigration legislation to pass the Senate in years, it’s far from the only chance both of New Hampshire’s senators have had to weigh in on what’s becoming a pressing national issue. When you look at their records, the two hold many different positions on the issue.

“Senator Ayotte has strongly opposed President Obama’s 2012 unilateral executive action which has contributed to the current crisis on the border, and she is cosponsoring legislation to end it. She voted against the Senate Democrats’ current border spending bill because it did not responsibly target funding toward border security and did not include any changes to current law, which has created incentives for people to enter our country illegally,” her spokeswoman Liz Johnson said in an email to the Monitor.

The president’s executive action Johnson refers to is known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The order, in practice, allows children brought here illegally to stay in the country. It’s similar to the goal of the Dream Act, which was unable to pass the Senate in 2010. Shaheen voted for the Dream Act, while Ayotte and Brown (then representing Massachusetts) voted against it.

On Thursday, Shaheen voted for and Ayotte voted against a bill that would’ve provided $3.6 million the president requested to tackle the problem. Ayotte felt it didn’t included any policy reforms. She is backing a different bill that would change the law to treat children from Central America the same was as those from Mexico and Canada, making it easier to turn them back at the border. Shaheen does not support that approach.

Ayotte’s record clearly does not align perfectly with Shaheen’s on this issue, nor does it completely align with Brown’s. Brown has made clear he does not support the Dream Act or any path to citizenship, both of which were included in the comprehensive bill Ayotte backed. Ayotte was seen as a key swing vote and, despite criticism in some circles, received strong support from a number of prominent New Hampshire Republicans for her vote. Brown said on New England Cable News that he probably would not have voted for the bill.

Keep an eye on whether both sides try to use Ayotte as a pawn in other issue fights throughout the campaign cycle – and whether they’re fully honest about her record when they do it.

Disclosing donations

With all the focus on whether a union illegally donated $25,000 to Hassan, another noteworthy campaign finance story has slipped under the rug.

Two Fridays ago, Hassan signed into law a bill that requires third-party groups to disclose political spending. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, passed with bipartisan support. But outside groups such as Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire are not happy about it. Under the new law, any group that exists for the purpose of promoting the success or defeat of certain candidates or issues and spends more than $2,500 doing it must disclose to the Secretary of State’s office where the money is being spent. The same rule applies for groups who’s purpose isn’t primarily political if they spend more than $5,000. Nothing in the bill requires the groups to disclose their donors.

Hassan’s office did not send out a statement highlighting the signing of this bill, but throughout the session her support for the bill was clear.

“Governor Hassan has long supported improving campaign finance laws and believes disclosure and transparency of political contributions is fundamental to ensuring that our citizens have faith in our system of government,” spokesman William Hinkle said.

Don’t be surprised if at least one of the outside groups now subject to more disclosure files a lawsuit on this bill.

More Fox in NH

Fox News anchor Bret Baier’s trip to New Hampshire two weeks ago wasn’t just for his eight minute segment on the U.S. Senate race. He was also here for a documentary on the Affordable Care Act in New Hampshire that will air on Friday. The documentary, according to a photo posted by Baier, will be called “Live Free or Die: Obamacare in New Hampshire.”

Fox’s press office confirmed the documentary will air Friday and will be about the effect of the law on every day people in New Hampshire.

Brown, who was interviewed for the piece, was a paid contributor at Fox News until mid-March, when he formed an exploratory committee to run for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire. Brown’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act has been a central part of his campaign against incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Brown campaign spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said Brown did not have discussions with anyone at Fox about the documentary while he was still working there.

A press woman for Fox said she “didn’t know” whether the channel was airing similar documentaries about the health care law in other states or when Fox started working on the documentary.

Campaign notes

∎ U.S. Senate candidate Bob Smith spoke at an event for New Hampshire Right to Life last week, touting his long record of support for anti-abortion causes. “Fighting for innocent life is not extreme, taking it is extreme and barbaric,” his campaign said in an email highlighting the event.

∎ Brown said on a radio interview last week that he’s never voted to raise taxes. He’s made this statement before, and it received criticism during his 2010 bid for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. While serving in the Massachusetts Legislature Brown voted for a 2004 state budget that increase fees by at least $390 million. Then, Brown said there was a clear difference between fee hikes and tax increases, and Guyton reiterated that “Brown has never voted for a tax increase.”

∎ Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein faced criticism this week from Democrats and his primary opponent Andrew Hemingway over news that a company he used to lead made millions in federal contracts to help implement the Affordable Care Act, which Havenstein opposes. Havenstein told the Nashua Telegraph that as CEO he did not make decisions based on his personal beliefs.

∎ The $2.34 million Brown raised between April and June is the largest haul for any non-incumbent Republican U.S. Senate candidate who didn’t loan themselves money, his campaign noted last week.

∎ Attorney Ed Mosca, former counsel to the New Hampshire House during Bill O’Brien’s speakership, is asking the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics to look into tweets by Judy Reardon, counsel for Shaheen. In the complaint, Mosca alleges Reardon is violating ethics rules by tweeting about Shaheen’s campaign on office time.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments2

Since the governor has to give back SEAIU's multi thousand $ contribution they need to keep it and not re-send it at a later date. The money could be better spent on local candidates that support them, not the BIA and NFIB who do not have a dog in this fight but were mentioned in the Gov's veto message justification. Maybe the BIA and NFIB gave her more money that is how the political game is played in Concord.

LOL..only a bully would veto anti bullying legislation...

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