The new legislative session kicked off last week, as lawmakers began the process of again sifting through the hundreds of new bills.
Many of these proposals would affect New Hampshire’s business community, including raising the state’s minimum wage, an issue that hasn’t gone anywhere in the past.
But could there be a spirit of compromise this year?
Jeff Feingold is editor of New Hampshire Business Review.
He joined NHPR's Morning Edition to talk about the new legislative session.
So, plenty of bills on docket related to business, but let’s look at the issue of the minimum wage. Currently, the state has no minimum wage, so it defaults to the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
What are some of the proposals we’re looking at this year?
There are a couple of them, but just to put it into perspective, New Hampshire has the lowest minimum wage in New England. It’s the only state in the region to follow the federal minimum wage. Vermont recently raised theirs to $9.60. Massachusetts is now up to $10 and will be at $11 next year. This has put pressure because it’s an outlier in New England. I was talking to a southern New Hampshire employer just the other day who was raising concerns about what the affects would be on wages here because of the increase in Massachusetts. It’s an issue on that’s on the agenda and on the radar of business people as well.
Right, because we’ve talked in the past about the challenge of trying to keep young people in the state.
Absolutely. One of the interesting things about this upcoming session is that there seems to be some bills that possibly find some common ground between Democrats and Republicans. One of them is a bill addressing this minimum wage issue, sponsored by Rep. Ed Butler, a Democrats from Harts Location. His bill would call for a gradual raise by 2019 to $9.50. But the bill would exempt workers under 17 because that’s one of the arguments against the minimum wage even though it’s been shown most people on minimum wage are not teenagers, but adults. The proposal could possibly diffuse that argument and it seems like it’s been pretty getting good reception from some employers and trade groups with large numbers of minimum wage employees.
Are there other bills we’re looking at that might strike a compromise?
It seems like there might be some possible agreement on Medicaid expansion. Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley seems almost eager to extend this. Of course, New Hampshire expanded Medicaid with the federal government paying 100 percent. Now, New Hampshire has to come up with 10 percent with the federal government covering 90 percent.
And that could translate into $20 million or $25 million.
Right, and for a state that still looks for money in the sofa cushions, it’s going to be difficult. But Sen. Bradley seems eager to find some kind of compromise, some kind of way of getting the money to do it because that is something of interest to a lot of people in the business community. They see Medicaid expansion as something that has worked. The hospitals see it as something that’s worked because they’ve greatly reduced people who use emergency rooms basically as their primary care because they have no place else to go, which is uncompensated care. So they really like how it’s been working. So that’s one of the places where compromise could be possible.