By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The Senate Thursday approved a right-to-work bill that would prohibit labor contracts requiring non-union workers to pay some of the costs of negotiations and administration of those contracts.
Right-to-work legislation has been before the New Hampshire legislature for almost 40 years but has never been enacted.
Along party lines the Senate also killed a bill that would establish an independent redistricting commission to redraw the state’s political boundaries in light of the 2020 census.
Similar bills passed the legislature during the last two years, once with a unanimous vote in the Senate, but were vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu.
The Senate also killed a bill to prohibit flavored e-cigarettes, established a new job training program and decided to allow dogs in outside areas of brew pubs.
Right-to-Work supporters believe they have the best opportunity to pass it with Republicans controlling both the House and Senate and the support of Gov. Chris Sununu. If they are successful New Hampshire would join 27 other states with similar measures but would be the only state in the Northeast with the restrictions on contract language.
Supporters said Senate Bill 61 would force unions to be more responsive to all the workers they represent and would draw companies and jobs to New Hampshire.
“If we want job growth, if we want people to have more opportunities, if we want greater income growth,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, in support of the bill, “right-to-work is one more thing that will give New Hampshire an advantage over other states around us.”
While the concept may be popular with Republican lawmakers, a five-hour public hearing last month drew mostly opponents who said the bill would mean lower wages, fewer benefits and less protections for workers.
They said it is “right-to-work-for-less,” union busting in favor of executives and investors, and un-American because it forces unions to provide their services for free to non-members.
Right-to-work would create additional hardships for low- to middle-income families in the state struggling to survive the pandemic’s economic impact, said Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, and a member of the local AFL-CIO board.
“This bill will accelerate a race to the bottom and it sounds like more government oversight and more regulations to me,” he said.
“This is unnecessary government intrusion that will pad the pockets of corporate shareholders at the expense of New Hampshire workers.”
During the public hearing, the Attorney General’s Office raised concerns about the potential costs of enforcing and implementing the law, as well as a provision requiring investigations and concurrent jurisdiction with county attorneys offices, which could result in double jeopardy.
But a letter saying the office was prepared to defend and enforce and oversee the changes in labor law if it is approved was enough to satisfy Republicans to move forward with the bill.
Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said the bill would go against the state’s ethical guidelines for prosecutorial discretion and would create double jeopardy in opposing the bill.
Right-to-work legislation has been pushed by some business groups and political organizations including the Koch Network, which seek to reduce the influence of unions.
The bill was passed on a 13-11 vote and will go to the House.
Senate Bill 80 is nearly identical to a bill approved last year by the House and Senate that would appoint an independent commission to redraw the state’s political boundaries for Congressional, Executive Council, Senate and House districts in light of the latest U.S. Census data for the state.
The bill would allow the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate to pick 10 applicants out of a field developed by the Secretary of State’s Office and then five others for the commission.
The commission would be required to do its work in public and with public input and then present its recommendations to the legislature for a final decision.
But opponents of the bill said there would always be ways to “stack the deck” to favor one party or the other.
“There is no such thing as fair and independent commission,” said Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, who spoke about Pro Publica’s investigation of California’s independent redistricting commission. “Ways will always be found to stack the deck against the electorate.”
Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, dismissed comments by Republican State Party Chair Stephen Stepanek guaranteeing the state would send a conservative Republican to Congress in two years because his party would control redistricting.
“My integrity is my integrity,” Gray said. “If I’m selected to the committee I will work fairly and to the best of my ability, but there are competing things out there.”
Supporters of the bill said it would end gerrymandering and allow voters to pick the candidates and not allow politicians to pick their voters to give their party an advantage.
For example after the last redistricting was done in 2012, in the first general election, the total vote for state senate Democratic candidates in the general election were more than the Republican vote for all its candidates, but Republicans controlled the Senate 13-11.
The prime sponsor of Senate Bill 80, Sen. Thomas Sherman, D-Rye, noted he served on the Secretary of State’s select committee on the safety and security for the 2020 elections during the pandemic.
While the emphasis was on safety and security, Sherman said, those issues pale in comparison to whether a voter’s power is diminished by gerrymandering.
After the Senate voted down party lines to kill the bill 14-10, Sherman said the Republican’s action was a vote against fairness and transparency in government noting an overwhelming majority of state residents support independent redistricting.
“We had the opportunity today to advance our work in ensuring future elections are truly fair, free, and representative of the people of this state,” Sherman said. “Instead, the majority is happy to silence voters and do whatever it takes to stay in power, regardless of the will of the people.”
The bill has had bipartisan support the past two years, although all but one of the sponsors of SB 80 are Democrats. Rep. Daniel Wolf, R-Newbury, is also a sponsor this year.
A similar bill is going through the House.
The Senate approved a bill establishing the Workforce Pathway program with the Community College System to retrain workers displaced by the pandemic.
The program would provide an easier and earlier pathway to high demand employment areas, said House Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.
The bill passed on a 22-2 vote and will go to Senate Finance to determine how it will be funded.
The Senate tabled a bill that would change how the state apportions its presidential electors on a partisan 14-10 vote.
Senate Bill 43 would have three of the state’s electors go to the winner of the general election, but if voters in one of the state’s two Congressional districts voted for the other candidate, he or she would receive one elector, similar to Maine’s apportionment of its electors.
The Senate approved Senate Bill 17 to allow dogs in outdoor areas of brew pubs, but prohibits animals in areas where food is being prepared.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.