Senate Backs Bills Targeting Undocumented Immigrants; Rejects New Minimum Wage

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Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, is pictured speaking in the state Senate Thursday.


CONCORD – The state Senate passed a bill that would invalidate out-of-state driver’s licenses issued to undocumented immigrants from other states and sent to the House a measure that would prohibit municipalities across the state from designating themselves “sanctuary cities.”

In spite of opposition to the latter bill from police in Manchester, Nashua and Hudson, the measure would compel local police to cooperate with federal officials when the subjects are being sought by them. It passed 14-10 along partisan lines.

The Republican-controlled Senate also rejected a bid to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $12 in September and $15 by 2025 and approved $40 million for architecture plans for a new men’s prison, among other bills.


New Hampshire does not issue licenses to undocumented immigrants. 

However, Senate Bill 386-FN would yank those licenses issued by other states.

State Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, said this invalidation is “extreme” and may impact the regional motor vehicle compact “by saying we don’t trust their authority” and may have interstate commerce implications, particularly related to rental cars and tourism. 

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said this would not impact the regional compact and protect the state.

“We are trying to protect New Hampshire motorists on our roads” she said, adding the state does not know if they had a license in their home country.

Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, said the bill does not make the state safer, it will harm the state’s economy and reputation.


This is the same bill, Senate Bill 563, that was passed by the Senate two weeks ago along partisan lines, 14-10. It went to the Senate Finance Committee, where it passed 5-2 and came back, receiving a 14-9 vote. It now goes to the House.

The debate Thursday led to more locked and strong disagreement between the two parties.

Lebanon, Hanover and Harrisville have passed “welcoming” policies, but the bill is intended to stem that concept which is seen in many major “sanctuary” cities across the country, including Boston.

Carson said mayors across the country don’t know what to do with all these people and there is a diversion of resources occurring to help them.

“So what are we doing? We are trying to stop that from happening here,” Carson said.

She said the federal government is not doing anything to stop illegal immigration at the southern border.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said there has been a lot of discussion about a letter from law enforcement opposing the bill. He called that reaction “wrong.”

Bradley said there is a “fundamental misunderstanding of what SB 563 does.” He noted $825 million is being spent by neighboring Massachusetts to address the problem there, house and feed illegal immigrants coming in. 

“If we don’t act, we let the problems grow,” he said.

Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, opposed the bill and said it is likely creating an unfunded mandate prohibited by the state Constitution and will cause property taxes to increase.

Sen. William Gannon, R-Sandown, said it would not cost more money and really involves a simple phone call from law enforcement to pick up these individuals.

He said we are not talking asking police to go in and take a dishwasher at a Portsmouth restaurant into custody. 

“We’re talking about a person already pulling them over for a state violation and they find out there is a detainer notice,” he said. “We want them to make that phone call.”

Whitley said, “We are not Congress,” and this bill does not do anything to help the people of the state.”

She said the bill states law enforcement “shall take best efforts to help enforce immigration law.”

She said, “that’s a mandate.”

Sen. Sue Prentiss, D-Lebanon, whose community has passed a provision to be a “welcoming” community wanted to clarify “we are not going to harbor terrorists” and would cooperate in such cases.


The Senate approved a bill which would provide a $100,000 death benefit to the family of the late Bradley Haas of Franklin, killed in the line of duty as a security guard at the New Hampshire Hospital when a gunman stormed the lobby in November, 2023. The vote was again unanimous after the first reading two weeks ago.

It also voted on a bill that works to protect telephone Area Code 603 and to try to conserve numbers to allow the state to not have to get an additional code in, appropriately numbered Senate Bill 603.

Another measure approved, SB 302 allows telehealth appointments for patients with their doctors out-of-state after they have already established an in-person relationship. Any out-of-state doctors would have to comply with New Hampshire laws, including treatment for assisted suicides. That bill passed on a voice vote.

The Senate also agreed to allow all doctors in the state to be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis under Senate Bill 357.

Also the Senate passed an increase to the $100 million settlement fund for the former Youth Development Center, formerly known as YDC, by $60 million.

Senate Bill 591-FN-A increases caps on YDC settlement awards and provides the administrator more discretion.


A minimum wage bill to increase it from $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum, to $15 an hour by July 2025 was killed in the Senate 14-10 along partisan lines.

It would have negative business and tax impacts, said Sen. Dan Innis R-Bradford.

He worried some jobs would become automated and there could be an upward compression on compensation. Innis said it would also impact the state’s tax coffers.

He said in 2023, the average wage for food preparation was $17 an hour, and compared to other states “we are not the lowest wage state in New England.”

But Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said this is year 12 of an argument to raise the minimum wage which the Republicans do not seem to want to even engage in.

“So many other things have changed at the same time,” Soucy said. 

Housing costs have gone up tremendously, in addition to food costs as well.

All of these costs have continued to increase, yet the wage has not. 

New Hampshire relies on the federal government’s minimum wage at $7.25 an hour.

Soucy said in Connecticut it is $15.69 an hour; Rhode Island $14, Massachusetts $15, Maine $14.15 and Vermont $13.67.

Soucy asked for the wage in New Hampshire to increase to $12 an hour by September and $15 by July 2025 and asked what is the harm with creating a reasonable floor?

“There are people who left a homeless shelter this morning and went to work,” Soucy said. “They can’t afford to find housing. That to me is a moral call. There is dignity in work. There is a dignity in being able to support yourself and to provide for yourself and your family.”

The bill was recommended to be killed on a 3-2 vote out of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Chandley agreed with Soucy, noting that the situation now leaves it to taxpayers to fill in the gap.

Gannon said his teen daughter had offers of up to $16 an hour for an entry level job and others said there are more than 30,000 available jobs in New Hampshire.


An act creating a new account for young children from families with limited income, Senate Bill 522-FN was amended and adopted 14-10 despite Democratic opposition.

Whitley said no child education organizations have called for this.

“They don’t because this legislation fails to center a basic principle about high quality early childhood education,” she said. “This bill is fiscally irresponsible. We will be spending millions of dollars on these programs. Don’t we want to know that they actually work?”

But Sen. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton, said the idea that this would not be a quality program is wrong and it is covered in the amendment. 

“This bill allows if a mom wants to sit at the kitchen table and teach their young child a reading or math program, and not have to require that she take the child out of the house to a pre-K program,” he said.

It now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.


Senate Bill 383, enabling legislation on tax caps, passed on a voice vote despite some concerns expressed by the minority leader.

Sen. Soucy opposed the passage. She said it complicates the existing law and would tie the tax cap to one single formula rather than a dollar amount or a fixed percentage.

She said it would limit options and was not something that any community came forward to ask for.

It passed the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee 3-2.

Sen. Keith Murphy, R-Manchester, said this bill allows local communities to take control of their tax caps and leave the question of adjusting them to the voters.

“New Hampshire has been burdened by inflation for many years but our tax caps have not changed. This bill adjusts the tax caps to take inflation and population changes in each town into account. It also helps our communities by creating procedures for managing the tax caps for school districts,” he said in a statement after the vote. “If local taxes that were raised from the previous year are reduced, the amount reduced will be added back and included in the town’s tax cap.”


After the Senate voted recently along partisan lines to support Senate Bill 321-FN relative to bail reform, the Finance Committee recommended 6-1 the measure should pass. It would jail those who fail to appear three times in three years. It is now headed to the House of Representatives after its third reading.

Senate Majority Leader Carson said the first responsibility as senators is to provide safety.

The bill does not take away bail but provides a rebuttable presumption on whether they should receive bail before a judge.

She called it a preventative step to discourage people from skipping court hearings.

Soucy said she has worked to make changes to bail reform and has been focused on the most dangerous offenses. She said House members are concerned with this bill and want something more comprehensive.

“Just doing one single piece won’t be enough,” she said.

 She said requirements to appear are not always orally provided and notices are sent in English to those who are unhoused and have no address.

The bill is going to mean county jails are going to fill up much more quickly, Soucy said.

Sen. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, said a good excuse like having no address might allow for them to be released, but they would be retained in jail until a judge could decide.

The vote to pass the measure Thursday was 14-10.


On a 19-4 vote with Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, excused for the afternoon, Senate Bill 476 approving $40 million with the ability to bond for architectural design and planning for a new state prison for men passed.

Opposing the funding were four Democratic senators including Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua, Debra Altschiller of Stratham, and Donovan Fenton of Keene.

Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester said the state has been applying temporary fixes at the prison for a number of years “and we are at a point where there are few other options available.”

 D’Allesandro said the state keeps making mistakes year after year and it is costly.

There is a definition of an idiot, making the same decision and expecting a different outcome, he said.


Senate Bill 536-FN which would have allowed for no-excuse absentee registration and voting in the state was killed, 14-10.

There were exceptions to that made during the pandemic when people did not know whether they may become sick with the highly contagious illness.

Abbas said when the state did expand it during COVID-19 “they were calling it early voting.”

Sen. Rebecca Perkins-Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, said she had heard Abbas’ concerns about what he heard at the polls from others holding signs outside the voting during the pandemic but she sees it differently.

“People are good,” she said. They could have a variety of reasons that could be private but still have a hindrance and should be allowed to vote, she said and they should not be disenfranchised.

“Inherently there is no danger in this,” she said.

Soucy said people here want to actively participate and those including those with mental health issues who don’t want to be in a crowded space should be able to get a no-excuse absentee ballot.

Soucy asked, “What if they care for an elderly parent, can’t leave the house,” she asked, “shouldn’t they be able to have the right to vote?”

Gray released the following statement after the vote.

“Citizens can request an absentee ballot if they have a physical disability or will be out of town on Election Day.  The dedication of our citizens and a responsible absentee voting process has resulted in New Hampshire having one of the top three turnout rates in the nation in each of the past three Presidential elections.

“New Hampshire’s Constitution does not allow absentee ballots as a matter of convenience.  SB 536 FN would make a fundamental change to our absentee process essentially making it a ‘vote-by-mail’ system. Our current absentee voting process works well for New Hampshire.  SB 536 FN is unnecessary and unconstitutional.” 


Carson issued a statement following the Senate passing SB 532-FN, requiring all municipalities and school governing bodies to post on their official town or school website within 30 days the amount of funds received by the state either by allocation or grant.

She said residents should know where the money funding local government is coming from so they can make informed decisions on local budgets. 

“This information is often buried deep inside an annual report. Local officials should inform taxpayers when state funds are supporting city, town, and school district expenses. This bill helps improve transparency in local government by requiring municipalities to post online, within 30 days, any funds received from the state. 

“Having local officials post these payments online gives local taxpayers a better understanding of how their community is funded. Currently, cities, towns, and school districts have widely varying ways of sharing this information. Posting state grants and allocations for towns will improve accountability and transparency for local and state elected officials,” Carson said.


An amended Senate Bill 219 which is related to school districts reporting mandatory costs and salaries passed on a voice vote.

Watters offered an amendment to include financial transparency in charter schools but it was voted down on a voice vote. 

Watters said it is important for taxpayers to know how their money is being spent and there should be no blind spots.

Rosenwald said she rose to oppose the bill saying it is a “baseless attack on New Hampshire school districts.” But she was not on the prevailing side.


The Senate failed on a 12-12 motion to send a bill to interim study which addresses alcohol packaging that can be seen as possibly attractive to youths particularly in convenience stores near candy and the check-out.

Senate Bill 335-FN came out of conference committee on a vote to send it to study on a 5-0 vote but both Senator Carrie Gendreau, R-Littleton and Watters opposed that and Watters offered an amendment.

Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford, and Gendreau were the two Republicans who voted with the Democrats to oppose the interim study vote. Watters offered a replace-all amendment which would keep alcohol away from the cash register near candy sales. He said there are small ball size containers and chocolate flavored alcohol near candy which are 15 percent alcohol.

“This is a tool the liquor commission needs” and the retail association seemed to have no problem with it, he said.

“We ought to make it clear to consumers what is alcoholic and what is not,” Watters said.

But the vote again, this time on the amendment was 12-12 and there was a move to table, which passed.


Passed unanimously was Senate Bill 366-FN which would prohibit the purchase of real estate within 10 miles of military installations by the Chinese government. The bill was sent to the Senate Finance for further consideration.

Following the vote, Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, the prime sponsor, released a statement indicating, “The Chinese government has been slowly usurping American land across the country. SB 366-FN stops the Chinese Communist Party’s overreach in purchasing land in New Hampshire. We are defending Granite Staters by blocking the People’s Republic of China from buying up land on or within 10 miles of any military installations and infrastructure.”

She said she first became interested in this issue after a Chinese company, FuFeng, purchased agricultural land in North Dakota near the Grand Forks Air Force Base. 


Senate Bill 517-FN-A relative to an employment status of university students working in education programs, which was amended, passed 14-10 despite it being described “A wolf in sheeps clothing” by Sen. Soucy.

These assistants get a free room in exchange for acting as a Residential Assistant. 

She said RA’s are required to be available at certain hours, times and to perform certain duties delegated by the university and college. 

One job is safety. She asked what happens if a fight breaks out and the RA is hurt? They are not covered by workers comp under this bill.


Senate Bill 301 which would establish a committee to explore options for a desalination plant on the Seacoast passed on a voice vote despite opposition by Sen. Altschiller.

She said locals were not involved or contacted about this proposal and it is already under study. 

Desalination plants – taking salt out of water – need to draw from brackish water, and the state’s largest body of water in that regard is in Great Bay. Altschiller said the Great Bay Stewards were not contacted about any research they may have. 


Interim study was ordered for Senate Bill 368-FN related to members of the state retirees in Group 1.


Senate Bill 499 relative to reduction of hunger for children, older adults and people with disabilities passed on a bipartisan basis and is headed to the House.

Whitley said this is capturing federal dollars to address food insecurity in children and others and she thanked the body for this very important measure.

After third reading, this measure heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.


Also passed was Senate Bill 555-FN relative to receipt of pharmaceutical rebates by insurers and pharmacy benefits managers.

Sen. Rosenwald opposed the measure noting that the Business and Industry Association opposed the bill “because they know these will pass on the costs.”

“We need to remember that only brand name drugs offer rebates.”

Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, however said there are a lot of “turf wars” out there in that industry but the bottom line is he wants to reduce the costs to consumers. 

He asked to vote for this and hopefully give a break to those who have to buy these prescriptions. 

In a statement issued after the vote, Avard said, “These reforms have been tried and tested in many other states and have not shown a significant increase in premiums attributable to reforming these policies. With this bill in place, patients will now receive more money back which is helpful during these challenging economic times.”

Paula Tracy is’s senior writer, having 30 years reporting experience.

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