Senate, House pass separate state minimum wage bills 

Staff and wire reports
Published: 3/21/2019 5:48:18 PM

A bill to establish a state minimum wage of up to $12 in New Hampshire passed the Senate on party lines Thursday, a week after Democrats passed similar legislation in the House.

Voting 14-10, Senate Democrats said Senate Bill 10 would lift up low income people and push businesses to better reflect the cost of living when setting wages.

But both pieces of legislation face strong opposition from State House Republicans, who say it ignores economic realities for businesses and will lead to lost jobs, as well as a likely veto from Gov. Chris Sununu.

New Hampshire is one of 21 states that don’t have a state minimum wage, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Under present law, New Hampshire companies are bound to the federal minimum wage level, at $7.25 a hour.

Servers in restaurants or hotels may be paid as low as 45 percent of that, or $3.26, provided they make at least $30 in tips a month.

The House and Senate bills follow similar outlines, but differ on the details.

Both set up a graduated series of hikes in the minimum wage. HB 186 moves from a minimum wage of $9.50 per hour by January 2020, to $10.75 by January 2021, to $12 by January 2021. SB 10 progresses from $10 in 2020 to up to $12 in 2022.

But the House bill exempts from the minimum wage anyone under the age of seventeen, reflecting concerns that raising the minimum wage would eliminate lower paying entry jobs for teenagers.

And the Senate bill allows businesses to pay a dollar less than the ultimate $12 minimum wage if they provide at least 10 paid sick days to their employees. Those businesses that do so would be held to an $11 minimum wage.

Senate President Donna Soucy, a Democrat from Manchester, said the state hasn’t raised it in more than a decade. Democrats cited the affordability of things like rent, heating, food and childcare in a high cost-of-living state like New Hampshire.

Top Republicans, meanwhile, called raising the minimum wage “job killing legislation.”

Republican Leader Chuck Morse, of Salem, said states and cities that have raised their minimum wage have seen the number of jobs decline and the take-home pay for low-wage workers decrease due to reduced hours.

“It is unfortunate that the Senate has passed a policy that will hurt the people it is most intended to help,” Morse said. “Every state or city in the country that raised their minimum wage has seen the number of jobs decline and the take home pay for low wage workers decrease due to reduced hours. Creating a strong economy will always be a more effective way to raise workers take home pay than mandating minimum wages.”

Wolfeboro Sen. Jeb Bradley said Democrats should leave the minimum wage and the economy alone.

“Rather than experimenting with raising our minimum wage, we should look at places that have implemented these policies and not make the same mistakes,” said Sen. Bradley. “Increasing the minimum wage will stunt the economic growth taking place in New Hampshire and put the jobs of thousands of Granite Staters at risk. New Hampshire has among the highest per capita income in the country, the lowest poverty rate and the lowest unemployment rate. We should not make unnecessary changes to a working system.”

Last week, The House of Representatives voted 210-145 to pass HB 186, establishing a minimum wage in New Hampshire.

“Without this bill, minimum wage Granite Staters will continue to feel the New Hampshire Disadvantage of being the lowest-paid in the region,” House Majority Leader Doug Ley said in a statement. It is past time that we pass this modest wage increase to bring us back in line with our New England neighbors.”

Gov. Chris Sununu criticized attempts to raise the minimum wage to $15 when he was running for reelection.

During his inauguration speech, Sununu did not address the attempts to increase to the state minimum wage, but that hasn’t provided him much distance from the issue.

Outside his office, a line of demonstrators waved signs in favor of boosting the minimum wage, including the wages of neighboring states to reinforce that New Hampshire’s minimum wage is lowest in New England.

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