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House nixes proposal to let N.H. businesses do away with paper paychecks

Last modified: 5/29/2013 11:57:34 PM
The House yesterday rejected legislation that would have allowed New Hampshire businesses to get rid of paper paychecks and pay workers instead with a debit-style “payroll card.”

The Democratic-led House voted, 235-93, to kill the bill, which passed the Republican-led Senate, 20-4, on March 21.

“This bill is pretty offensive,” said Rep. Tim Smith, a Manchester Democrat. “This is one of the newer scams that’s been pushed on our hardworking citizens, and it’s taken the form of a payroll card.”

State law requires businesses to offer employees the option of being paid with a physical paycheck. The bill would have eliminated that requirement for businesses that offer their workers both direct deposit and a preloaded card, such as versions offered by Visa and MasterCard.

Rep. Gary Daniels, a Milford Republican, said eliminating the paper paycheck requirement would save companies money. He said processing a physical paycheck costs about $10 per person, versus about $1.25 per person for direct deposit.

“There are only two things you can do with a paper check: You can cash it, or you can deposit it into an account. The same is true with a payroll card. . . . We should let employers manage their business expenses in the most cost-effective and cost-efficient way they can, giving the business the best opportunity to succeed while offering employees as much employment stability as possible,” Daniels said.

But Smith said payroll cards are typically used in low-paying jobs, and they are “specifically targeted at our most vulnerable and financially unsophisticated citizens.” He also said they come with “a long schedule of fees and conditions that can often be confusing or misleading to the unsuspecting worker, who is simply told by his boss that this is a more convenient way to collect his pay without needing to make a trip to the bank.”

The House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee voted, 13-7, to recommend the bill be killed, and the full House agreed.

Vexation, unemployment

In other action yesterday, the House passed a bill allowing a judge to designate someone a “vexatious litigant” if they file three or more “frivolous lawsuits . . . initiated for the primary purpose of harassment.”

A “vexatious litigant” would be required to retain an attorney or “other person of good character” to represent them, or post a bond to cover attorney fees, in order to file additional suits, under the bill.

It passed the Senate, in a slightly different form, on a voice vote in early March. The House Judiciary Committee voted, 11-6, to endorse the bill, and the full House passed it on a 198-130 vote.

“Frivolous litigation is a serious problem to some people, and it’s also a serious problem to all the people who use the court system,” said Rep. David Woodbury, a New Boston Democrat. “The people who are victims of frivolous litigation – particularly vexatious litigation, which is a subset of frivolous litigation – are made to endure year after year after year of torment, harassment and expense for no legitimate purpose.”

Rep. Michael Sylvia, a Belmont Republican, said the problem is real, but the bill will provide only “a false solution” instead of an effective deterrent.

“This bill adds a couple of meaningless paragraphs to the RSAs,” Sylvia said. “The real harm done by this bill is in delaying – by five, maybe 10 years – the work needed to bring a true solution.”

The House also voted, 183-149, to pass a bill creating the so-called “Pathway to Work” program, which would allow a small number of unemployed workers to continue receiving unemployment benefits while they start up their own small businesses.

It passed the Senate, 19-5, on March 28. In the House, the vote broke largely along party lines: 178 Democrats and five Republicans voted for the bill, while 141 Republicans and eight Democrats voted against it.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, “looks forward to signing the bill into law,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg.

Unions, water

The House yesterday also voted, 191-135, to kill a Senate bill that would have given the Legislature’s Fiscal Committee the power to approve cost items for collective bargaining agreements involving the state.

Opponents said the bill could politicize the bargaining process, but supporters said the Legislature should have some oversight over union contracts that cost the state money.

The bill passed the Senate on March 7 on a party-line vote, with 13 Republicans in favor and 11 Democrats opposed. Yesterday’s House vote fell largely along party lines, too, with 180 Democrats and 11 Republicans voting to kill the bill versus 132 Republicans and three Democrats voting for it.

House members also voted, 254-74, to pass a Senate-endorsed bill creating a new legal framework for local governments to establish local and regional water and/or sewer commissions. An earlier attempt to table the bill was rejected, 244-86, as was an attempt to send it back to the House Municipal and County Government Committee, on a 229-98 vote.

The House will meet again next Wednesday, and possibly the next day as well, to vote on remaining Senate bills. The Senate and House both face a June 6 deadline to act on bills passed this year by the other chamber.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)


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