February 14, 2014 

     Thank you for your interest in one of our most proud efforts- business advocacy during the legislative session.Our Chamber is very proud of its efforts to represent you and all of our members in Concord. Our work would not be possible without the strong support of our friends at Devine, Millimet & Branch, whose lobbying team serves as our "boots on the ground" in Concord on a daily basis. We thank them for their unyielding support of our advocacy efforts, particularly through the sponsorship of this newsletter.

This weekly newsletter is intended to give you an overview of what has happened at the State House over the past week. Read this every Friday to learn about our Chamber's lobbying efforts relating to those activities, and to preview what we are doing on behalf of our Chamber members. 

Next Up:  The Gas Tax (SB 367)

The much- anticipated hearing on the bill to increase the gas tax (SB 367) is now scheduled to occur this coming Tuesday (barring any more snowstorms).  SB 367 will be one of several high-priority bills for the Chamber this session because so much is at stake here. 


Many of you probably read the local editorial this past Wednesday, which argued in support of a gas tax increase.  We think that the writer got it exactly right when the editor said that "our roads are critical to our economy, and the gas tax is critical to maintaining good, safe roads."


Readers of The Advocate will know that our survey of the Chamber's membership on this issue resulted in overwhelming support for an increase in the gas tax as the way to address the problem with our state's roads and bridges. To recap that survey, only about 14% of the respondents said that there should be no gas tax increase.  More than half of the respondents (about 53%) came out in favor of a one-time increase that would not be connected to a mechanism allowing for automatic increases in the future.  Just about 33% said that they preferred a bill with an automatic inflator such as what is found in the current language in SB 367 (a 4-cent increase, to be adjusted in the future in accordance with the Consumer Price Index, or CPI). The local paper also spoke out against that automatic increase in SB 367, so it seems pretty clear that the editor and the membership of the Chamber are in close agreement on this one.


The long and the short of it is that, after lengthy discussions about this issue by the members of the Chamber's State Advocacy Committee and the Chamber Board, and in the wake of the membership survey, we are 100% certain that there is a strong consensus in the region's business community in favor of a gas tax increase, but there is also strong opinion against the concept of an automatic inflator. As a result, the Chamber will be there on Tuesday to speak in favor of the policy expressed in SB 367, and to ask for an amendment to the bill that establishes a one-time increase of up to 10 cents, with any future increases to come only through enactment by the Legislature. The 4-cent increase contained in SB 367 is far too low to have any appreciable impact in solving the problem at hand, and the purpose of this increase has to be to do just that: to solve the problem at hand. It does no good to have an increase in the gas tax that is not able to accomplish what it is intended to do.


Obviously, the Chamber has not come to this conclusion lightly, and we hope that the homework that we have done on this speaks for itself.  In almost all cases, the Chamber opposes tax increases, especially those that impact businesses.  However, as our members know, the Chamber has never taken a position on a piece of legislation based simply on what the knee-jerk reaction might call for.  We always strive to have the same sort of mature and considered judgment on these types of issues as we think our members have.  In our view, some 24 years after the last increase in the gas tax, an increase is absolutely called for because the vital infrastructure of our state depends on it. 

Chamber Urges House and Senate Commerce Committees To Reject Employee Credit History Bills  (SB 295 and HB 1405)

Last year, the Chamber joined with a number of business groups in opposing legislation designed to limit the ability of employers to conduct credit checks of employees. That legislation made it most of the way last year through the House and Senate before it ended up dying in a committee of conference. Not surprisingly, the legislation was brought back again this year, this time in both the House and the Senate.


As Chamber President Chris Williams told the Committee in his written testimony, the Chamber always opposes bills that are looking to create solutions to problems which have not yet arisen in any significant fashion, because such bills inevitably lead to unintended consequences.  From the Chamber's perspective, it is highly unlikely that an employer is going to go to the trouble and cost of performing a credit check unless the employer genuinely believes that such a check is necessary, so there is an inherent unlikelihood that an employer is going to be taking this sort of action in the first place. The evidence seems to indicate that this is not happening with any frequency (or, indeed, at all). So let's leave it to the discretion of employers for now and deal with this in the future if it looks like there is actually any abuse.

Senate Passes Chamber-Supported Amendment On Postsecondary Career Schools (SB 221)

On Thursday, the Senate passed an amended version of SB 221, the bill which provides additional regulations for private postsecondary career schools.  Back in early January, Chris Williams testified in favor of amending this bill so that it would not have the unintended consequence of applying to entities like software companies (such as our own Skillsoft).  It is worth noting that, given the number of bills considered each year by the New Hampshire House and Senate (usually around 1,000 in total), there are bound to be bills like this one that have a purpose that may not be objectionable in and of itself, but which are written in such a way that they impact businesses in a way that the sponsors never intended.  We were happy to help with getting this legislation clarified, and appreciate Senators Lasky and Gilmour both helping on this one.

Senate Commerce Committee Comes Up With Solution On Non-Compete Bill (SB 351)

A few weeks ago, we told you about the Chamber's support for SB 351, a bill to repeal a law that was passed last year and that created some major hurdles for businesses that need to utilize non-compete agreements.  Over the last few weeks, some of the stakeholders (hat tip especially to Fidelity Investments) have been working with Representative Keith Murphy, the sponsor of the original law, to come up with language that would address Rep. Murphy's concerns and at the same time clear up the ambiguities and the overly broad nature of what became law last year.  These sorts of discussions don't always turn out successfully, but this time they did.  The agreed- upon language that was passed by the Senate Commerce Committee in the middle of yesterday's snow storm would limit the applicability of the statutory non-compete restrictions just to prospective employees (the law as it stands applies to current employees as well).  Great work by all involved.  This should pass the Senate next week, and then we will see what happens when it gets over to the House.

In Other News...

The House on Wednesday voted to kill HB 1287, a bill opposed by the Chamber that would have required a refundable deposit on beverage containers.  The House Environment Committee unanimously recommended the death of this one, and decided instead to consider some sort of comprehensive recycling bill in the future. 


The Gas Tax bill will not be the only Chamber priority bill being heard on Tuesday.  The Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing on SB 297, which is the bill dealing with apportionment of damages that we talked about last week in The Advocate.  We will be there to oppose that bill. 


We're also expecting the House next week to finally vote out (and down, we hope) HB 1509, the bill that tries to make certain nonprofits pay the business enterprise tax. This bill has been on the House Calendar for several weeks now, but a series of lengthy debates on other bills during the House sessions have meant that this one has not yet been reached for a vote (the House votes on bills by Committee in alphabetical order of the Committees, so this is not an unusual situation for bills coming from Ways and Means).


On the local political front, The Chamber is hosting its annual State Of the City Address with Mayor Lozeau this coming Wednesday morning.  If you haven't already registered, please visit www.nashuachamber.com to do so.  It's certainly been an eventful year, so you'll find this upcoming event with Mayor Lozeau very insightful and interesting.


And of course perhaps the most important of the events that are taking place in the coming days is not happening in Concord at all, but rather in Fort Myers, FL. Today's weather notwithstanding, the end of winter is at last approaching!


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