NASHUA BULLETIN                                 April 17, 2015

 

Welcome to the Chamber's weekly legislative newsletter, The Advocate!  With the start of the new year comes the start of NH's state legislative session.  For those of you who have been active with our Chamber for a while, you already know to expect this legislative newsletter in your inbox each week. It provides a recap of what happened in Concord each week, and previews what is coming up in the following week that pertains to various business interests. We hope you find this weekly publication informative, and a great way to stay attuned to what is happening in Concord that impacts southern NH's business community!

 

Rail Transit Authority Board Change Gets Deeper Look (SB 63)

Last week, we reported on the public hearing that was held in the House Transportation Committee on SB 63, the bill filed by Senator Bette Lasky to change the make-up of the Rail Transit Authority Board of Directors, from its current unwieldy structure with almost 30 members into a smaller and nimbler body that would be advised by a newly created Advisory Board. This week, a subcommittee of House Transportation met to look at SB 63 in more detail. 

 

During the course of the discussions, Patrick Herlihy from the Department of Transportation said that the governance model which is embodied in SB 63 was developed after looking at the way that similar types of entities are set up in other parts of the country. The goal of SB 63 is to make the Authority more functional, while at the same time giving a wide variety of interested parties and regions of the state an effective way to furnish input. 

 

One of the reasons that the subcommittee was appointed was to look at a possible amendment that was suggested by Nashua Representative Mike O'Brien, a member of the Transportation Committee, to ensure that there would be legislative participation on the new Board of Directors.  The subcommittee originally was leaning toward having the legislative members come from the Transportation Committee, but ultimately the subcommittee settled on a more flexible approach that would give the legislative appointments to the Speaker of the House and to the House Minority Leader. This solution would allow each party to appoint the person best suited for the job, whether that legislator comes from the Transportation Committee or from some other committee.

 

There was also some discussion about the business implications of what the Rail Authority does. One of the subcommittee members questioned whether there was any business impact from rail and whether there needed to be any business representative on the Board of Directors, as contemplated in the bill. The DOT representatives, however, did a good job of explaining the massive importance of things like business development around the train stations, reverse commuting, access to Manchester Airport, and the additional productivity that comes from being able to work on a train. DOT noted, and we also reiterated this to the subcommittee, that the Chambers of Commerce are major supporters of the commuter rail proposal.

 

One of the members of the subcommittee asked Mr. Herlihy how close we are to commuter rail in Nashua.  Herlihy said that the best case scenario would be 2023 if the money were in hand now. The fact that DOT is projecting an eight-year timeframe underscores the need to take this bull by the horns and get things moving immediately. This is why we are also urging the Senate Capital Budget Committee to restore the funding, removed from the proposed state budget by the House, for further preliminary work on the Capitol Corridor Project. We will have more on that next week.


What Is The Definition Of An "Employee"? (HB 450)

More precisely, the caption above should probably say "definitions," because that is the problem that HB 450 is looking to address. 

 

As many businesses have experienced over the years, New Hampshire state agencies employ multiple definitions of the term "employee;" the Department of Employment Security uses one definition, and the Department of Labor uses another. As prime sponsor Representative Keith Murphy described the problem to the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday, a company that he had started was told that it could save money by classifying certain people as independent contractors, consistent with Department of Labor regulations. But two years later, when the company was being audited by the Department of Employment Security, they learned that although the business was in compliance with DOL regulations, they were not in compliance with the Department of Employment Security regulations.

 

This general problem resulted in the convening of some discussions last summer at the Department of Labor to look at how other states deal with this issue. DOL's goal was to try to create one definition that would be usable by a small employer. From DOL's perspective (and although DES did not testify, apparently from their perspective also), the filter this bill would use will produce about the same number of independent contractors as is the case under the current set of laws.

 

Although the business community is supportive of this idea because it will furnish businesses with greater certainty and will make it easier to ensure that the laws are being complied with, the labor side of the equation is not on board. The AFL-CIO opposes the bill, and told the Committee that the guidelines concerning who is an employee are sufficiently well-determined. Senator Dan Feltes also spoke in opposition to the bill because he believes it will result in more people being designated as independent contractors, and thus that more people who lose their jobs will not get unemployment benefits.

 

This will be voted on by the Senate Commerce Committee within the next couple of weeks.

 

In Other News....

This week was something of the calm before the storm, as the House had only a brief session to vote on a small number of bills on Wednesday, and the Senate did not meet at all.  The session days will grow longer as the two bodies get closer to their deadlines for getting bills acted upon.

 

If you noticed that the flags were at half-staff on Wednesday, you probably assumed that it was to honor someone who just died.  But actually those flags were lowered in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. It is amazing to think how much happened in the life of this man in the short period of time between his 1860 visit as a private citizen to Concord, Manchester, Dover and Exeter -in one of the few unwise decisions of his life, he skipped Nashua - and his death as the victorious commander-in-chief of the Union armies just five years later. (And of course, when he came to New Hampshire, he came by rail!)

 
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