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N.H. House votes to raise minimum wage



Last modified: Thursday, March 13, 2014
A bill that will increase the state’s minimum wage by a dollar next year – and more in future years – passed the House yesterday, largely along party lines.

“What we’re doing here is having the possibility of providing an umbrella for the most marginal working poor groups,” said Rep. Chuck Weed, a Keene Democrat.

New Hampshire uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. This bill would increase it to $8.25 next year, $9 in 2016 and tie future yearly increases to the Consumer Price Index. The House voted, 173-118, in favor of the bill, with five Democrats voting against it and four Republicans voting for it. It now goes to the Republican-led Senate, which recently stripped indexing provisions from a bill to raise the gas tax.

Supporters of the bill focused on what raising the minimum wage would mean for struggling workers, while opponents focused on how it could affect New Hampshire businesses and jobs. A full-time worker making $7.25 an hour brings in about $15,000 per year. The 2013 federal poverty line is $11,000 for a single person and $15,000 for a two-person household.

“Is it right that we have people in our state who work full time for so little?” asked Rep. Sally Kelly, a Chichester Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor. “These are the same people in our state who just like us need to pay rent, buy food, put gas in their car, and none of those things are the same (price) as the last time we raised the minimum wage; they’ve all increased.”

House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, pointed to a recent analysis from the federal nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that showed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which President Obama is pushing, could cost the United States 500,000 jobs. Rep. Dan McGuire, an Epsom Republican, said he worried those jobs would belong to mostly teenagers.

(This bill) “could appropriately be subtitled the ‘War on Youth,’ ” he said. “Having a job for a young person is very, very important.”

Rep. Romeo Danais, a Nottingham Republican, said raising the minimum wage to $8.25 then $9 would force employers to raise wages for not just people who make the minimum wage, but also all of the workers between the old and new minimum wage. Workers making more than the minimum wage could also seek proportional increases, he said.

“You can’t raise the lowest common denominator and not raise the others that are above them,” he said.

After the vote, Gov. Maggie Hassan sent out a statement praising lawmakers for voting in support of the bill.

“This measure will help improve the financial security of working families and people of all ages, and will support businesses by putting more money in the pockets of their consumers,” she said.

Marijuana decriminalization

A bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and hashish passed through the House yesterday by a wide margin and will now go to the Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schroadter, a Newmarket Republican, would reduce possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to a violation-level offense carrying a $100 fine. Under current law, possessing less than an ounce is a misdemeanor. If the bill passes, people will also be able to possess up to 5 grams of hashish without facing criminal charges. The bill passed, 215-92.

“Why waste limited law enforcement resources on marijuana possession?” Schroadter asked. “Regardless of what you think about pot or pot legalization, I think we can all agree that our current penalties are excessively harsh.”

The House has passed decriminalization bills many times in recent years, but usually for smaller amounts, such as a quarter-ounce. This is also the first time the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee has endorsed decriminalization.

This is different legislation from the marijuana legalization bill that passed the House earlier this session. The House Ways and Means Committee is still working on that bill.

New Hampshire is the only New England state that has not decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill also decreases penalties for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana. Marijuana penalties are currently the same as penalties for drugs such as cocaine.

Drones

On a voice vote, the House approved a bill that would prohibit government entities from using drones for surveillance without a warrant. “Surveillance” includes tracking or following an individual’s movements or communities by photographing and listening to them.

This surveillance does not extend to individuals as long as the drones are not used for harassing or stalking another or used where someone has an expectation of privacy. It also doesn’t apply to journalists who may want to use drones for newsworthy events, as long as the events aren’t on private property.

“I think all of us can vote in favor of this bill knowing this will not in any way impede the kinds of wonderful uses drones can bring us,” said. Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican and the bill’s prime sponsor.

Home heating oil protections

A bill aimed at providing protections for consumers who pre-buy home heating oil passed without debate, 226-98.

Fred Fuller Oil & Propane Co., a major provider in the state, faced an oil shortage earlier this winter. At the governor’s request, the state got involved by setting up a hotline to take calls from customers.

The bill establishes guidelines for oil companies that pre-sell home heating oil. If the bill passes, oil companies can’t pre-sell between Oct. 31 and May 1, and customers can’t pre-buy for a term of more than one heating season. In the contracts, dealers would be required to clearly explain how they will meet the contract obligations.

Also under the bill, dealers would have to reimburse any consumers who have undelivered oil. Dealers who fail to maintain coverage or falsely claim they are covering a consumer will face a misdemeanor charge. A study committee will also be charged with evaluating existing consumer protections and recommending new ones.



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