Hassan says boost N.H. minimum wage to $10 an hour 

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    Governor Maggie Hassan speaks at the "Monitor" editorial board. (GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan, speaking with the “Monitor” editorial board Friday, says she won’t endorse a Democratic candidate in the gubernatorial primary but still plans to back Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. Hassan is running for U.S. Senate. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

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    Governor Maggie Hassan speaks at the "Monitor" editorial board. (GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

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    Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan speaks to the "Monitor" editorial board Friday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/8/2016 9:25:36 PM

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan said New Hampshire should raise its minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, days after California and New York decided to gradually push theirs to $15 an hour – the highest in the nation.

“We should be close to that $10 mark,” Hassan said, during an editorial board interview with the Monitor on Friday. “And I think we should look at increasing it further moving forward.”

Raising the state’s minimum wage – which at the federal level of $7.25 is the lowest in New England – has been a top priority for Hassan during her two terms as governor. But it is one she is unlikely to accomplish. Republicans in control of the Legislature have defeated multiple proposals to raise the state’s minimum wage before they ever got to Hassan’s desk.

Hassan is now challenging Republican Kelly Ayotte for her U.S. Senate seat. And if elected to Washington, Hassan said she would push to raise the federal minimum wage, but she declined to give a specific number.

“We should look at the possibility of a federal standard. The one caution I have is that different states have different economies,” she said. “The exact number there is something I think we should review carefully.”

But she stopped short of recommending a different rate for the southern and northern tier of New Hampshire, which have different economic conditions.

“What I know is that people who are working hard each and every day should have the opportunity to know that at the end of a 40-hour work week they can afford the things that will give them and their children the opportunity for a better future,” she said.

Hassan, who is winding down her last term in the governor’s office, said Friday she plans to push the state’s Republican-led Legislature to spend more money combating substance abuse.

A year after drug overdoses killed more than 400 people in New Hampshire, substance abuse is a top issue at the State House. Hassan backs bills to expand drug courts in the state, dedicate more police officers to drug investigations and fund treatment efforts. All come with a price tag, but one that’s worth it, she said.

“We can’t afford not to do these things,” she said. “I will continue to make the case to the Legislature that we need to treat this with a sense of urgency that I think they’re not reflecting in their deliberations.”

Hassan wouldn’t say whether she would sign a bill to decriminalize marijuana, but raised concern that the drug has negative effects on youth and can act as a gateway to harder drugs.

“I have long believed that people shouldn’t go to jail or have their lives ruined for a first time possession offense,” she said. “I also, though, am very concerned that marijuana has a very negative affect, especially on adolescent brains.”

Hassan said she will carefully review a Senate bill that would change the penalties for having marijuana, by making possession of the drug an unspecified misdemeanor and increasing the fine for a first-time offense from $350 to $500. The legislation has cleared the Senate, and is under review in the House.

As fallout continues around the Phillips Exeter Academy sexual misconduct case and the arrest of a Pembroke Academy administrator for heroin possession, Hassan said all schools should have policies in place to deal with reports of misconduct.

Phillips Exeter is facing outcry after the elite boarding school waited until this year to alert alumni that a former teacher had admitted in 2011 and 2015 to sexual misconduct with students. Hassan’s husband, Tom Hassan, was principal of the school until last year, and he apologized recently for not doing more.

Maggie Hassan has said a review of the school’s response is appropriate.

“We have a lot that can be learned from this situation,” she said. “I would look forward to working with experts about what best practices might be.”

Looking toward the 2016 election, Hassan said she will not endorse any gubernatorial candidate in the Democratic primary to replace her. Currently, three Democrats are in the running: Concord Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, Seacoast businessman Mark Connolly and former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand.

Despite pressure from some Bernie Sanders supporters, Hassan, a superdelegate, said she will still support Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer.

While Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic primary with 60 percent of the vote, he could score fewer delegates here than Clinton, who has the backing of at least six of the eight Granite State superdelegates.

“I continue to support Hillary Clinton because I think she is the best prepared person with the best record of actually achieving results that have made a real difference in the lives of people throughout our country,” she said, adding that the heated primary won’t divide the party. “I am also quite confident the Democratic Party will be unified in the fall.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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