My Turn: With vetoes, Sununu is holding back state’s workers

For the Monitor
Published: 9/17/2019 7:30:30 AM

Senate Democrats campaigned on our Granite State Opportunity Plan, and we have fought day in and day out to build an economy that works for everyone and ensures every Granite Stater has the opportunities they need to succeed – and that starts with a good job.

This session we have led the way to address important issues facing New Hampshire’s working families, including efforts to strengthen workers compensation coverage, like Senate bills 99 and 151, and improve access to unemployment benefits, like SB 146. Working with our House colleagues, we passed SB 271 to require that workers are being paid the prevailing wages on state-funded public works projects – an initiative proven to keep taxpayer dollars in-state to benefit local workers, local companies and local economies.

Unfortunately, time and again we’ve faced one obstacle. From minimum wage to paid leave, Gov. Chris Sununu is holding New Hampshire back from making progress on critical issues important to hard-working Granite Staters.

Before the Senate reconvenes this week to take up the majority of 55 bills vetoed by Gov. Sununu, a thorough review of labor bills is in order. In a year of record vetoes, more than a dozen of the 55 bills nixed by Gov. Sununu were labor bills. More than one-third of the 26 Senate bills vetoed by the governor sought to advance workers’ rights and workforce development opportunities in New Hampshire.

Regardless of political party, we should all agree that New Hampshire is better equipped to make economic decisions that impact our workers and businesses than politicians in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, we ceded that authority in 2011 when the Legislature eliminated our state minimum wage altogether.

This year, Senate President Donna Soucy championed her seventh bill to re-establish and raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage incrementally to $12 per hour by 2022. It made it all the way to the governor’s desk, where it was summarily rejected. Unless we overturn Sununu’s veto, hardworking Granite Staters will continue to struggle to make ends meet, and we’ll continue to lose workers across our borders because New Hampshire pays workers a lower minimum wage than any of our neighboring New England states.

As New Hampshire continues to combat the opioid epidemic, we know one of the biggest barriers people in recovery face is re-entry into the workforce. That’s why Senate Democrats prioritized increasing opportunities for this vulnerable population in our efforts to address workforce issues.

And in legislation specifically designed to address the skills gap in our economy, we added language that would expand job training opportunities specifically for people in recovery. That bill, the Granite State Jobs act, would have tripled job training funding and eliminated bureaucratic barriers to make job training more flexible and usable for businesses. When Gov. Sununu vetoed SB 2, he thwarted a huge opportunity to address the top concern for New Hampshire businesses – their inability to find qualified workers for the thousands of open positions they have.

SB 100 also would have reduced barriers to employment that Granite Staters in recovery currently face by prohibiting the question of criminal background on initial applications. We know one of the best pathways to recovery is a job, but the governor used his veto pen to block this bipartisan effort.

Gov. Sununu’s most surprising labor veto, though, was that of SB 20, a bill to protect the safety and well-being of New Hampshire’s employed youth that passed the Senate unanimously on a voice vote. As the father of three children in the workforce, there is nothing more important to me than their safety and well-being. That’s why it was so shocking that a family man like the governor blocked this legislation.

And the veto heard across the state was the governor’s emphatic veto of paid family and medical leave. Senate Democrats made this our top priority this session because we believe no one should be forced to choose between caring for a loved one and their financial security. Paid leave is a critical tool to address our caregiving crisis, combat the opioid epidemic and build the workforce of tomorrow.

Not only did Gov. Sununu refer to paid leave as a “vacation,” and not only did he veto SB 1, he doubled down on his opposition to this broadly supported program by auctioning off his paid leave veto signature at a political fundraiser on the Fourth of July.

When the Legislature takes up Gov. Sununu’s record number of vetoes, I hope my Republican colleagues are willing to show their independence and vote for the best interests of their constituents, not their political leader. New Hampshire workers and families are counting on all of us to do the right thing and override the governor’s vetoes of these critical initiatives for working families.

(Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh serves as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee.)

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