The Advocate 2/3/17
This week we have for you the (virtually) annual Super Bowl “We Are All Patriots” edition of The Advocate. You’ll find our prediction on The Game below.
Money for Preliminary Rail Work (SB 100)
Last week, we told you about the attempt to eliminate the Rail Transit Authority. The goal of that bill was to foreclose further discussion of commuter rail. Fortunately, there are legislators who not only oppose the idea of ending those discussions, but who are willing to make yet another attempt to actually obtain funding for commuter rail. SB 100 would appropriate $4 million in funding for preliminary work on the Capital Corridor project – an idea that unfortunately has been rejected by the legislature twice previously (which prompted prime sponsor Senator Bette Lasky to say that she felt a little like Senator Lou D’Allesandro, whose long quest to get a casino gambling law passed is well-known). A tip of the cap to Senator Lasky, as well as to Nashua delegation cosponsors Representatives LeBrun, O’Brien, Jack, Rosenwald, and Mariellen MacKay. The Chamber of course continues to be a strong supporter of this proposal. We’ll see what the Senate does with the bill this time.
A New Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program? (HB 628)
One important employment-related proposal that is being considered this year is HB 628, which would create a new insurance program for family and medical leave. The hearing on this bill took place on Wednesday in the House Labor Committee, and as you might expect there was quite a lot of interest in it.
Here is how the proposed program works:
• All employers subject to this law (which would be essentially all private businesses of any size, except self-insured entities that offer equivalent benefits to their employees) would be required to make quarterly FML premium payments amounting to 0.5% of wages per employee per week (the sponsors of the bill presented an amendment at the hearing that would make participation in this program optional on the part of the employee, so if that amendment were to pass then employers would only need to make these payments with respect to employees who opt to participate). Employers can withhold or divert the wages to satisfy this requirement.
• The Department of Employment Security would use these moneys to create a Family and Medical Leave Insurance fund that would be be used to pay FML benefits during the time of the employee’s use of FML.
• An employee would be able to take up to 12 weeks of FML, and once the employee returns the employee would have to be restored to the previous position or an equivalent position. Governmental entities are exempted from the mandate.
We are reviewing this bill closely and it will be a major topic of discussion at the next meeting of our State Advocacy Committee on Monday. We recognize the importance of the issue, and proponents have argued that this would allow small businesses to provide the sort of FML benefits that only larger employers can provide now, with a resulting benefit on the employee retention front. However, it should come as no surprise that we do have some major concerns, and there are a number of questions that need to be addressed, including the following:
1. Will this ultimately be a mandatory or an optional program?
2. Why apply this bill as a mandate on private businesses only?
3. What would be the protections for really small businesses, where the impact would be disproportionately more difficult?
4. What will be the cost to DES to set up and administer the fund? (No fiscal note on the bill was available as of the day of the hearing).
5. How would the employee continue to pay for his/her portion of health insurance in the absence of payroll deduction?
6. What would be the additional cost for each employer to collect / remit this?
We will keep you up to date on the progress of the bill. Please let us know if you have any comments or suggestions on the way that you think we should be approaching this.
House Committee: Utility Property Valuation Bill Worth a Closer Look (HB 324)
Last week, we told you about HB 324, the legislation to create uniformity in the way that municipalities assess utility property for purposes of local property taxation. The wildly divergent nature of the assessments on identical types of utility property in different municipalities has set off alarm bells with respect to the accuracy of those assessments.
Municipalities came out in force to lobby the House Science and Tech Committee to kill the bill. Fortunately, however, the Committee this week wisely decided not to kill the bill, and instead decided to retain the bill in the Committee, which means that the Committee will have ample opportunity for further study of the issue over the coming months.
This is a good decision, because it will give the Committee plenty of time to look at this complex issue and get to the bottom of what is going on here. We are quite sure that it will be crystal clear how the current practice produces artificially high utility bills (meaning, of course, that it is incumbent on the legislature to ensure that the current practice is ended).
In Other News…
A hat tip to the House Municipal and County Government Committee for voting unanimously to recommend that the full House kill HB 145, a bill opposed by the Chamber, which was designed to give individual municipalities the right to decide whether high voltage transmission lines will be able to be located in that city or town. That would have been a disaster for electric rates in New Hampshire. And kudos to the House Ways and Means Committee as well, for voting 20-1 to recommend that the House kill HB 357, a bill that would have repealed the law passed just a year ago to create a uniform formula for assessment of telecommunications poles and conduits around the state. The Chamber supported the new system, and there is no reason at all to depart from it now.
SUPER BOWL PREDICTION
Come on. Do you really need to ask?