Legislative Update – March 15, 2019
House and Senate committees were busy all week conducting public hearings and voting out bills in advance of Crossover. The House continued to work on Governor Chris Sununu’s $13 billion 2020-2021 Biennial Budget, with state agencies appearing at Finance Committee work sessions to discuss their budgets.
Who’s gonna take care of the tip?
The House on Thursday passed a bill increasing the minimum wage to $12 per hour in phases. Senators are also poised to adopt a $12 per hour wage, but the two bills differ on how they handle tipped employees, such as wait staff. The Senate version sets the tipped wage at $4 per hour and keeps it there. The hospitality industry favors that approach over keeping the rate at a percentage of the minimum wage. The House version would raise the tipped wage to $6 per hour, possibly resulting in greater wage disparities between workers or forcing businesses to significantly increase pay for non-tipped staff, something the industry says it would be hard-pressed to do. The bills will have to be reconciled if the minimum wage issue is to move forward.
Dollars for scholars
The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday voted to phase out a fund that helps disadvantaged families pay for private school tuition. The program offers tax credits in return for contributions to the fund. The vote was 10-9 along party lines, with majority Democrats prevailing. Democrats believe the program is a financial drain on public schools. They have also raised the issue of its constitutionality, which has yet to be fully decided by the courts. Republicans, who passed the program in 2012, say the students who participate need the alternative education options the fund offers. Meanwhile, the Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on a bill that would keep the current low-income scholarship program in place, but would expand it to include public schools.
15 for 15
The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved Senate Bill 15, which directs a total of $15 million toward affordable housing. The bill has broad bipartisan support. Testimony in the public hearing highlighted concerns that businesses are having workforce problems because employees cannot keep up with the state’s continually rising housing costs and rental rates. The bill now goes to the House.
Not so fast, maybe
The House Finance Committee will consider retaining the House version of the paid family and medical leave program after questions arose regarding implementation costs. Employment Security officials reported that it may cost the state $10 million to upgrade vendor IT systems that would implement and run the program. Finance Committee members will be looking to other states in hopes of finding less costly alternatives.
The Mighty Quinn
Assistant Commissioner Robert Quinn of the Department of Safety has been nominated by Governor Sununu to replace outgoing Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes in the agency’s top spot. Quinn was formerly head of the State Police. Director of Homeland Security Perry Plummer has been nominated to move up to the assistant commissioner position Quinn currently holds.
The House has scheduled Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, March 19th, 20th and 21st, if necessary, for full sessions as they work to complete action on remaining bills before Crossover. The Senate will meet in session on Thursday, March 21st.