March 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. 

Senate Approves Gas Tax Increase (SB 367)

Well, it only took a year to get there, but the Senate has finally taken the step of voting to raise the gas tax in order to pay for necessary construction and repairs on New Hampshire roads and bridges.  Yesterday, the Senate approved SB 367 by a bipartisan vote of 14-9.  Interestingly, despite the level of controversy surrounding this issue over the last year or so, there was no floor debate at all. Thanks go to Senators Peggy Gilmour and Bette Lasky who both voted in favor of SB 367, a bill which, as you know, the Chamber supports.


The amendment that was passed by the Senate yesterday was the one that was recommended by the Senate Ways & Means Committee last week. This would have the effect of increasing the tax by 4 per gallon, with no automatic future increase built in (an automatic inflator was part of the initial version of SB 367). The amendment approved by the Senate is consistent with the position taken by the Chamber in the public testimony before the Ways & Means Committee, where we spoke in favor of an increase but expressed deep reservations about future increases that are not specifically enacted by the Legislature. The next step is review by the Senate Finance Committee next week, and then it will be back to the Senate floor one more time before the Senate (hopefully) gives its final approval and then sends the bill to the House.


In introducing the bill on the floor, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Senator Jim Rausch (the prime sponsor of the legislation) appropriately said that the process of passing SB 367 "has been a long, rough, bumpy road filled with numerous potholes."  In his remarks, he noted that it has been 23 years since the last increase and that, prior to that last increase, the tax had been raised every four years on average.  Senator Rausch said that it may well be the case that a 4 tax increase would not even be apparent at the pump, because gas prices are dependent on local market forces more than anything else.  But even if the increase does result in any higher prices at the pump, a driver that puts 20,000 miles on a car that gets 25 miles per gallon would see a $32 a year increase due to this 4 hike, which he said was "a far smaller cost than the vehicle repairs which would be necessary" as a result of having to drive on bad roads. 


Opponents of this gas tax increase have attempted in recent weeks to paint the tax as anti-business and anti-consumer, claiming that it will wreck the wallets of small companies and individuals.  We find this logic tortured at best, considering the incrementally small impact described in the above paragraph.  Additionally, one need only look at our neighboring states, all of which have a far higher gas tax than we do, to see the evidence that their gas prices are very similar to ours in NH.  In fact, there are gas stations right across our border in MA that frequently have lower gas prices than our own stations in Nashua.  If it's true that a gas tax increase will literally and directly translate into a higher gas prices at the pump, then how is it that these stations in our neighboring states with much higher gas tax rates manage to have prices so close to ours?  Finally, one should keep in mind that this tax will be shared by out-of-state tourists coming into NH and filling their gas tanks within our borders; this is therefore a tax that is partially defrayed by out-of-state entities rather than exclusively by NH residents. 

Senate Passes Credit Check Bill (SB 295)

Also on Thursday, the Senate passed SB 295, which would have prohibited employers (except certain exempted businesses such as financial institutions) from performing or using credit checks for employment decisions relating to potential or current employees.  The Chamber opposed this bill (just as we did with respect to a similar bill last year) because in our view this bill is an unnecessary infringement on the allowable and sensible discretion of employers (we are not aware of a single instance where credit checks are being abused by employers or indeed are being regularly done at all).  No employer is likely to undergo the cost and the time involved in having a credit check performed unless the employer believes that it is necessary in order to run the business properly.  We agree with the floor remarks of Commerce Committee Chair Senator Andy Sanborn that "we have to allow businesses the reasonable tools at their disposal to make reasonable decisions for their companies."


The amended version of SB 295 that was passed by the Senate yesterday is something of an improvement over the bill as introduced.  In the amended version, in addition to the exemptions provided for financial institutions, the law allows any employer to perform a credit check of a potential hire as long as the employer reasonably believes that the lack of access to an employee's credit history at the time of hiring may adversely impact the employer's business, the welfare of other employees, or the welfare of other individuals associated with the business.  

Chamber Opposes Bill On Businesses And The Unemployed (HB 350)

We know that we are getting close to the beginning of spring when we see Senate committees taking up their first House bills, so we can be glad that this happened this week, with the Senate Commerce Committee holding hearings on several bills that had come over from the House after review by the House Labor Committee.  One of those bills was HB 350, which prohibits employers from discriminating against the unemployed.  We registered our opposition to HB 350 this week (and we opposed a similar bill last year) because it would increase the possibility of litigation against employers, even though there does not appear to be any tangible problem out there that needs to be addressed.  It is entirely illogical to think that an employer who believes that an individual is the best qualified person for the job will decline to hire that person simply because the person has been unemployed for a long period of time.  The reality is that employers are going to hire the person that is going to produce the best work for that employer.  The best way to solve a perceived problem like this one is to ensure that the economy is strong enough so that virtually no one is in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.  

In Other News...

In a busy day on Thursday, the Senate also passed SB 327, a bill that is supported by the Chamber and which changes the prospective repeal date for the ERZ tax credit law from July l, 2015 to July 1, 2020. As Chamber members know, the ERZ tax credit is on the books due to a law that was initially proposed a number of years ago by our Chamber.  Thanks go to SB 327 prime sponsor Senator Bob Odell who, appropriately enough, was also the prime sponsor of the original ERZ bill. This one now heads over to the House.


The House on Wednesday passed a bill to increase the minimum wage. HB 1403 would increase the amounts to $8.25 in 2015 and $9.00 in 2016, to be followed by a series of automatic CPI-related hikes every September. That bill is now headed for the Senate, and to see what the Senate thinks about automatic increases in assessments or mandates, take another look at what happened with SB 367.


For the first time in 33 years, someone other than Ray Burton is the Executive Councilor from  District #1.  On Tuesday, the voters of the First District elected Joe Kenney of Wakefield to fill the seat that became empty with the passing of long-time Councilor Ray Burton.  With a Republican replacing a Republican, the political balance of power on the Council remains unchanged, with Democrats holding a 3-2 majority.  Although District 1 is as far away as you can get from our own District 5, the selection is of note to the entire state because the five Executive Councilors vote on all New Hampshire state contracts of any note, as well as all judges and high-level executive branch appointees. Councilor Kenney won't need directions to the State House, because he formerly served in the State Senate.  

And finally, in honor of St. Patrick's Day....a toast

May you have the hindsight to
know where you've been,

The foresight to know where you are going,

And the insight to know when you've gone too far.

Sponsored by
Devine Millimet

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