House Squelches Right-to-Work Bill
Concord — The Democratic-controlled House killed a right-to-work bill yesterday, two years after similar legislation passed a Republican-dominated Legislature but fell to a gubernatorial veto.
The 212-141 vote wasn’t a surprise, since Democrats hold a 219-179 majority in the House. Only one Democrat — Nashua Rep. Michael Garcia — voted with the Republican minority, and 18 Republicans sided with the Democratic majority.
Right-to-work laws are in place in 24 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They prohibit union contracts from requiring employees who aren’t members of the union, but are covered by the contract, to pay an agency fee to the union.
Supporters yesterday described it as a jobs bill, saying right-to-work states have shown stronger economic growth in recent years.
“It’s actually a great anti-poverty program that helps our state in two ways: higher on employment, and lower welfare rolls,” said Rep. Pam Tucker, a Greenland Republican.
But Rep. Chris Andrews, a Bow Democrat, said right-to-work states have lower wages and benefits than states that don’t have such laws.
He said the bill is really aimed at weakening unions.
“Do we really want to get between the employer and the employee, tell them what they can and cannot negotiate on?” Andrews said.
The Legislature in 2011, when Republicans held big majorities in both chambers, passed a right-to-work law that was vetoed by then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat. Supporters, led by then-Speaker Bill O’Brien, fell short of the two-thirds majority needed in the House to override Lynch’s veto.
O’Brien vowed to try again, saying last year that the right-to-work bill would be one of his top priorities. But Democrats won back control of the House in November, making its passage unlikely.
O’Brien, still a Republican representative from Mont Vernon, had a tense exchange with his Democratic successor, Speaker Terie Norelli, of Portsmouth, toward the end of yesterday’s roughly hourlong debate.
Norelli thrice interrupted O’Brien as he delivered a statement just before the vote. O’Brien had risen for a parliamentary inquiry and was phrasing his statement in the form of questions, but spoke longer than usual for a parliamentary inquiry.
“A parliamentary inquiry is (a) brief question of the chair. I would remind the member that that is what you were recognized for, and ask you to honor the House,” Norelli said the third time.
O’Brien replied, “Madam Speaker, I do recognize that. I would ask the speaker to be attentive to the questions being posed to her.”
And when the vote totals were announced, applause rose from the House gallery, where a number of union members and supporters were seated. Norelli banged her gavel and asked them not to make noise.
The vote was hailed by unions and their supporters.
“After two years of O’Brien’s extreme agenda, our elected representatives made it clear that they have no appetite for bills that will lower wages and erode the middle class,” said Mark MacKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, in a statement.
The Business and Industry Association said it was unsurprised, though disappointed, by the vote.
“Being the only right-to-work state in the Northeast would put New Hampshire at a competitive advantage relative to other states for growing companies who are sensitive to this issue,” said Jim Roche, the BIA’s president, in a statement. “And we could have achieved that advantage at no cost to the taxpayer or to the state.”
The House also passed a bill creating a committee to study how to improve the Children in Need of Services program, or CHINS.
The CHINS program provided counseling and other services to truants, runaways and other children with behavioral problems, with the goal of intervening before their wrongdoing can escalate to criminal behavior.
It was cut in the state budget passed two years ago, and now serves about 50 children a year, only the most serious cases. It used to serve about 1,000 children each year.
A bill that would have restored $4.1 million a year in funding for the program was killed by the House last week. The bill passed yesterday instead creates a committee of five representatives and one senator to study the program and report back by Nov. 1. The committee would suggest legislation that could be introduced next year.
The bill sailed through the House on a 293-50 vote, and now goes to the Senate.
Medal, Wine, Marriage
The House also passed, on a voice vote, a bill modifying the eligibility requirements for the New Hampshire Medal of Honor. The medal is awarded to residents who, since 1979, have died during military service; the bill removes those who die during training from being eligible for the honor.
Rep. Skip Rollins, a Newport Republican, spoke about his son, Army Spc. Justin Rollins, who was one of six soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007. Only those who are killed in action should be honored by the state with the medal, he said.
“My son’s legacy is his honor, and today is your opportunity to help me in my life journey of protecting it,” Rollins said.
The House also passed a bill allowing people to produce wine at home (home brewing of beer is already allowed) and killed a bill that would have ended the state’s limited, posthumous recognition of common-law marriages. Both items were part of yesterday’s consent agenda, which was approved on a voice vote.