The month of February has been a busy month in the N.H. House of Representatives. To learn more or follow up on specific bills go to www.gencourt.state.nh.us.
Although we appear to finally be out of the “Great Recession” that started in 2008 there are still many New Hampshire families who are continuing to struggle to make ends meet. As such, we need to continue to do what we can to ensure that everyone who wants a job is able to get one and that they are paid a “fair wage” for their efforts.
In February the House passed two bills that will help do just that. House Bill (HB) 1188 will help to ensure that women are paid the same as men for similar work and HB 1405 prohibits an employer from discriminating against an applicant because he/she may have a bad credit report. In March we will be taking up HB 1403 which proposes to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.25 an hour on January 1, 2015 and $9 an hour on January 1, 2016.
Providing all of our citizens with an education that prepares them to compete for jobs in today’s global economy is one of our most pressing priorities, not only so that each student is able to find a job, but so that we are also able to continue to attract new jobs to our state.
One critical and exciting initiative that communities across the state are implementing is the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS are clearer, more focused, require deeper learning and demand more of our students than any previous standards. They provide broad but specific guidelines on what our children should know at each grade level. On Feb. 6, I urged the House Education Committee to reject HB 1508 which would terminate the state’s participation in the CCSS. I hope that they do so when they vote on the bill on March 4.
Many of the students who will benefit from CCSS will decide to go on to college. Unfortunately, the cost to do so in New Hampshire is one of the highest in the country. Student loan debt for 2012 N.H. graduates, averages $32,698 which is second only to Delaware. That is in part due to the fact that New Hampshire ranks near the bottom of all states in terms of state aid to higher education.
To address this issue the House passed HB 1146 which would establish a committee to study the feasibility of creating, structuring, managing, marketing, and funding a program to help establish a saving account for all kindergarten age students in the state to help them save for college or a technical school. This alone will not address the problem of high cost, but if we can encourage students and their families to begin saving earlier then perhaps we can reduce the financial burden on them later on.
Our crumbling roads and bridges is becoming an issue that we can no longer avoid and I am hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to reach agreement on a mechanism to address this critical issue. In the interim, the house passed HB 1581 which gives the commissioner of the NH Department of Transportation (DOT) the ability to issue a bond in an emergency to repair or replace a bridge closed by an order of DOT. While this is not a permanent solution, it is necessary since the Senate was unwilling to go along with the House last year and provide additional money to the Highway Fund.
Perhaps the most contentious issue that we dealt with this month was whether or not to expand background checks for firearm sales in the state. I supported an amended version of House Bill (HB) 1589 which would have expanded background checks to all commercial sales (at gun shows or over the internet) but would have also permitted individuals who know each other to exchange firearms without having to obtain a background check. That seemed like a reasonable compromise. Unfortunately HB 1589 was ultimately defeated 242-118.
While that vote effectively killed any chance of enacting specific legislation on background checks this session, the House Criminal Justice Committee is sending a bill (HB 1264) to the floor of the House that recommends establishing a special commission to “explore options to strengthen the background check system for firearm sales” and issue a report by Dec. 15. While not as positive a step as HB 1589 would have been, if approved by the full House and Senate it will give us an opportunity to continue to have an open discussion on the question of background checks this year.
Looking ahead, members of the House will be asked to vote on several important issues in the coming months.
HB 1170, which will abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire has already been passed by the House Criminal Justice Committee and will be put to a vote in the full house in early March.
HB 1633 will establish a State Gaming Commission which will oversee all “gambling” activities in the state; including the N.H. State Lottery, racing and all charitable gambling. It also allows for the selection and operation of one casino in southeastern New Hampshire. I know that this remains a very contentious issue and I would welcome your thoughts on whether you believe expanded gambling is in the best interests of New Hampshire. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week, the Senate Health, Education & Human Services Committee approved SB 413, which will enact a form of Medicaid expansion. The question now goes to the full Senate. I hope that a majority of senators will finally agree to move forward with Medicaid expansion. Failing to move forward has deprived 50,000 people of access to healthcare and has already cost our state at least $29.5 million dollars as of February 28, 2014. I look forward to being able to again (for the fourth time) vote in favor of expansion when SB 413 comes to the floor of the house sooner than later.
Last year a bipartisan coalition of Seacoast state representatives worked together to encourage the state to set aside the necessary funds to purchase the abandoned rail line between Hampton and Portsmouth. Funding for that purchase has been set aside and the N.H. DOT is in negotiations with Pan Am (the current owner of the property) on a final purchase and sale agreement. Hopefully those negotiations will be concluded shortly.
In past months, I have also indicated that updated flood plain maps will be available from FEMA “soon.” These are important because they will eventually impact the price of flood insurance on many properties along the seacoast.
Finally in closing, I would like to extend my condolences to the family of Rep. Amy Perkins of Seabrook. Rep Perkins passed away this week after a long illness. She was only 43; far too young. To her husband Koko and all of her friends and family not only in Seabrook but along the entire Seacoast, my thoughts are with you.
The following appeared in the February 16 Seacoast Sunday News
Common Core is Right for New Hampshire
by Rep. Chris Muns
“Our state Constitution explicitly commits the state to provide all of our children with a quality education at public expense. For most of our history that meant that our towns and cities would build a school, buy the books and leave the rest up to the teachers. Rarely did one school district coordinate with another; there was little perceived need to do so. Most of the jobs that students competed for when they left school were in the same communities where the schools were located.
Today, kids in Hampton, Rye, Newton and Stratham no longer compete with other kids in just New Hampshire or New England for the good jobs in today’s economy; they compete with kids from throughout the world.
In addition, one of the top concerns that business leaders right here in New Hampshire express is their inability to find “job-ready” employees — people with the ability to interpret data, think for themselves and develop innovative and creative solutions to problems using concepts that they have learned in school. Tom Raffio, chief executive officer of Northeast Delta Dental, chairman of the New Hampshire Coalition of Business and Education and chair of the New Hampshire Board of Education, has said: “I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard the CEOs of New Hampshire companies say they can’t find the talent they need to run or grow their companies.” Those are real jobs that are going unfilled or leaving our state.
We do a disservice to our children and our collective future if we do not hold our students accountable to the same standards that children in other states and other countries are learning to.
Three years ago New Hampshire adopted our newest English and math standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS are not a federal mandate; they have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. They are a set of “big ideas” that students should know and be able to do when they graduate high school. They were designed by a diverse group of educators, business leaders and advocacy and policy stakeholders, and have garnered the support of national parent organizations.
The CCSS do not tell school districts what to teach or how their teachers must teach. They provide a kindergarten through 12th grade road map for what students should know and be able to demonstrate that is aligned with college and workplace expectations.
They do not eliminate New Hampshire’s tradition of local control. It remains up to each local school district to design its curriculum in the way it believes will best help the students in their schools successfully achieve the standards.
The costs associated with adopting these new standards are small. Districts such as Sanborn Regional have been using their standard curriculum review process to assess what changes to their existing curriculum might be necessary.
Some new textbooks may need to be purchased and some additional investments in technology may be needed to support the move to CCSS, but the folks that will be most impacted will be our teachers. They may change what they teach to some degree, but they will also change how they teach. As one of the administrators in SAU 21 has said, “Good teaching always asks kids to think on their own. The standards are promoting a transition from the ‘sage on the stage’ who lectures students from the front of the classroom to the ‘coach on the side’ who works with students on strategies to meet the challenge ahead.”
Support for the standards is virtually universal among educators. They recognize that students today need a new set of skills to succeed in today’s world and they are up to the challenge.
Teachers and administrators will be aided by the new computerized tests that will replace the current paper-based, multiple-choice NECAP tests we have used in the past. Our teachers will know how effective their teaching is and our kids will know how effective their studying is. And no student’s personal information will leave New Hampshire under any condition.
We need practical, common sense solutions to our state’s most pressing challenges. Getting the CCSS into our classrooms is an important step we can take right now for our kids’ future. Our students will be better prepared to analyze and make sense of the relentless flow of information and news that they are bombarded with on a daily basis and they will become better decision makers and better citizens in the process. As a result, they will be better prepared for next phase of their lives, whether it is to attend college, join the military or begin pursuing a career.
I urge you to read the standards for your child’s grade. For more information go to www.corestandards.org/. And tell your school board members and legislators that you support this big step forward for our kids.”
Chris Muns is a New Hampshire state representative from Hampton. He also is the current chairman of the Winnacunnet School Board.
On February 12, 2014 I spoke on the floor of the House in favor of Amendment# 2014-0371h to House Bill 1589 which would have required background checks for all commercial sales of firearms within the State of New Hampshire.
“Thank you Madame Speaker.
I rise to speak in favor of this amendment.
I support it because New Hampshire has a right to do what we believe is necessary to protect our citizens. We owe it to ALL law-abiding citizens to do whatever we can to stop even one person who should not own a gun from being able to acquire one. And if in the process, we are able to prevent just one senseless shooting that saves just one life then our efforts will have been very worthwhile.
I – along with all of you – respect the second amendment of the United States Constitution and the right of my fellow citizens who wish to own a firearm to do so.
I also respect the first amendment, which protects our freedom of speech and the fourth amendment which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Freedom of speech does not, however, permit someone to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. And while I might think that having to empty my pockets, remove my belt, take off my shoes, remove my laptop, and subject my personal belongings and myself to an x-ray screening IS not only an unreasonable search but unnecessary because I am a law-abiding citizen, we all agree to subject ourselves to this routine every day at every airport in the country because we know that it is meant to protect all of us.
Long ago, “we the people” – through our elected representatives-decided that just as is the case with the first and fourth amendments, some limits on the right of an individual to own a firearm were appropriate so that the shared and common interest of all of us could be served.
Current federal and state law requires that any seller of firearms who is a Federal Firearms Licensee must conduct a background check on any person who is purchasing a firearm from them, unless that purchaser has a valid Permit to Carry. Background checks are also required for all inter-state Internet purchases.
That is not unlike the concept of requiring anyone who wishes to fly to go through a security screening. It is also not without precedent. Doctors, day care providers and many other professionals are also required to complete background checks because we believe that it is in the public’s best interest.
This amendment extends the requirement for a background check to any COMMERCIAL sale of a firearm within the state of New Hampshire if it occurs at a gun show, or any other COMMERCIAL sale including sales at flea markets or over the internet within the state. And that makes sense, since in most – if not all – commercial transactions, the two parties to the transaction do not know each other, certainly not well enough to know whether the purchaser is prohibited from owning a firearm. That being the case, it is in the public’s common interest to ensure that a check is done to ensure that this individual is in fact able to own a firearm.
This bill does NOT require a background check for a sale or transfer of a gun between two individuals who know each other. If you want to transfer a gun to someone you know you will be able to do so without a background check.
Finally, there is nothing in this bill that would create a national or state firearms registry; in fact the bill specifically includes language that says “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require or authorize any state, county or local law enforcement agency to establish or maintain a registry of firearms sold or transferred in accordance with this chapter.”
This amendment is a straight forward and common sense piece of legislation. It sends a clear message to everyone in our state – and our country – that New Hampshire not only respects the right of law-abiding citizens to own a firearm but that we take seriously the responsibilities that come along with doing so.
I urge you to join me in voting for this amendment so that we can have a debate on the bill and ultimately refer it to the Criminal Justice Committee with a recommendation of opt to pass as amended.
Madame Speaker in the interest of time I will not take any questions.”
On Thursday February 6 I appeared before the House Education Committee and presented the following written testimony in opposition to House Bill 1508, which is an act “terminating state participation in the common core educational standards.”
For the record my name is Representative Chris Muns and I represent the Town of Hampton in Rockingham County District 21. I am also the At-Large Representative and Chairman of the Winnacunnet (High) School Board., which serves the towns of North Hampton, Hampton, Hampton Falls and Seabrook.
I am speaking here today in opposition to the bill. Kids n Hampton, Merrimack, Londonderry, Concord or Rochester no longer compete with other kids in just New Hampshire or New England for the good jobs in today’s economy; they compete with kids from throughout the country and the world. We do a disservice to them if we do not hold them accountable to the same standards that children in other states and other countries are learning to.
In addition, one of the top concerns that business leaders right here in New Hampshire express is their inability to find “job – ready” employees with the ability to interpret data, think for themselves and develop innovative and creative solutions to problems as they appear using concepts that they have learned in school Tom Raffio, who is the CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, Chairman of the New Hampshire Coalition of Business and Education and Chair of the New Hampshire Board of Education is on record as having said that: “I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard the CEOs of New Hampshire companies say they can’t find the talent they need to run or grow their companies”
The Common Core standards are clearer, more focused, require deeper learning and demand more of our students than any previous standards. They provide broad but specific guidelines on what our children should know at each grade level. They set goals for the kind of knowledge and skills we all, as parents, want for our children.
However, it is still up to each school district to decide which programs, books and teaching techniques to use to prepare their students to meet those guidelines. I know that my high school and my school board is spending a lot of time designing the specific program of study that is right for our kids.
The Common Core Standards are also changing how our teachers teach and in the process challenging them in new – and exciting – ways. As one of our administrators in SAU 21 has said” Good teaching always asks kids to think on their own. The standards are promoting a transition from the “sage on the stage” who lectures students from the front of the classroom to the “coach on the side” who works with students on strategies to meet the challenge ahead “and think for themselves.
We need practical, common sense solutions to our state’s most pressing challenges. The Common Core Standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia and are “ready to go”; even Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have adopted them. To turn our backs on these standards now would be not only be bad for our kids, but bad for our teachers and bad for the long term economic vitality of our state.
For those reasons AND the fact that – as the fiscal note mentions – the bill makes no provision whatsoever for what standards should replace the Common Core Standards if this bill were to be adopted, I urge you to vote this bill as inexpedient to legislate.
Thanks very much. I would be happy to try to answer any questions that you might have.”
On February 4, 2014 the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs voted on House Bill (HB 1589) which would extend the requirement for background checks when a firearm is purchased within the State of New Hampshire. I spoke in favor of Amendment 2014-0371h, which the Committee accepted by a vote of 10 in favor and 8 opposed. That is also the vote by which the committee recommended the amended bill as “ought to pass as amended” to the full House of Representatives. If the House votes in favor of the bill, it will then be referred to the House Committee of Criminal Justice and Public Safety, where additional public hearings and a separate vote on the bill will take place. If the full House then approves the bill for a second time, it will be sent to the Senate for their consideration.
Here is my testimony:
“Fellow members. This is an important piece of legislation and I wanted to make sure that I structured my comments in an organized manner so I put them down on paper. Please bear with me.
I support this amendment and this bill because I believe we owe it to ALL law-abiding citizens to do whatever we can to stop even one person who should not own a gun from being able to acquire one.
I am not a hunter and I am not a gun owner, but I respect the second amendment of the United States Constitution and the right of my fellow citizens who wish to own a firearm to do so.
But I also respect the first amendment which says that “Congress shall make no law…. abridging the freedom of speech.”
And the fourth amendment, which says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
Freedom of speech, however, does not permit someone to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. And while I might think that having to empty my pockets, remove my belt, take off my shoes, remove my laptop, place my 3 oz liquid containers in a plastic bag and then remove that plastic bag from my suitcase before subjecting my personal belongings and myself to an x-ray screening is an unreasonable search, we all agree to subject ourselves to that every day at every airport in the country because we know that it will protect all of us.
Long ago, “we the people” through the representatives we elected decided that just as is the case with the first and fourth amendments, some limits on the right of an individual to own a firearm were appropriate so that the shared and common interest of all of us could be served. We decided, for example, that certain “prohibited persons” should not be able to own a fire arm and to ensure that no such persons were able to acquire one we instituted the practice of background checks; which when you think about it is very similar in concept to security screenings at our airports.
Current federal and state law requires that any seller of firearms who is a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) must conduct a background check on any person who is purchasing a firearm from them, unless that purchaser has a valid Permit to Carry. Background checks are also required for all inter-state Internet purchases.
Since that is the accepted practice, why would we permit someone who does not have a valid Permit to Carry and who may have failed a background check to be able to legally purchase a firearm simply by going someplace else? That simply does not make any sense.
This bill extends the requirement for a background check to ANY commercial sale of a firearm in the state of New Hampshire whether it occurs in person between someone who is not a licensed firearms dealer and a private individual at- for example- a gun show or over the internet. The assumption is that in most – if not all – of these cases, the two parties to the transaction do not know each other, certainly not well enough to know whether the purchaser is prohibited from owning a firearm. That being the case, it is in the public’s common interest to ensure that a check is done to ensure that this individual is in fact able to own a firearm.
Will this provision of the bill result in some additional inconvenience for law-abiding citizens who wish to purchase a firearm in New Hampshire? Yes it will. Absolutely; and to say otherwise would not be honest or fair to those who have raised this as an objection. But it is also a major inconvenience for every law-abiding citizen who is required to go through airport security screenings every time they fly.
What the amendment to this bill does do is remove language that would prevent two individuals who know each other from transferring a firearm between them without the recipient of the firearm first having to pass a background check. That requirement is no longer in the bill. If you are someone who is legally permitted to own a firearm and you wish to transfer or sell a firearm in a private transaction to someone you know who also is not prohibited from owning one, you will be able to do so. No background check is required and if it is subsequently discovered that one or both of you are not legally able to own a firearm than you will only be subjected to a subject to a fine; not a felony or jail time.
This bill will NOT magically prevent any criminal who wants to acquire a firearm from doing so. That is unrealistic and simply wishful thinking. But if we are able to prevent one senseless shooting that saves just one life then our efforts will have been very worthwhile. It also sends a very clear message to everyone in our state – and our country – that New Hampshire not only respects the right of law-abiding citizens to own a firearm but that we take very seriously the responsibilities that come along with doing so.
Thank you for indulgence in letting me share my thoughts with you. I urge you to join me in voting for this bill and sending it to the floor of the house with a recommendation of ought to pass.
On January 21, 2014 I spoke to the House Labor Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee in favor of House Bill (HB) 1174 of which I was the prime sponsor. The bill would end the practice of allowing employers in the state of New Hampshire to pay a “sub-minimum” wage to persons with a disability.
I am very pleased that on January 31 by a vote of 16-0 the committee recommended that the full House of Representatives pass this bill. Here is my testimony:
“Thank you Mr. Chairman and Representatives for this opportunity to speak with you today. For the record, my name is Chris Muns. I am a state representative from Rockingham District 21, which includes the Town of Hampton and I am the prime sponsor of HB 1174. I am also the father of a young adult with a disability.
I am joined here today by two friends of mine – Laurie McCray and her son Michael who are both from Portsmouth. They would like to share their personal stories with you after my brief remarks.
Later this session, you will be taking up HB 1403, which is a bill to establish a state minimum wage. As you know, we currently do not have a state minimum wage and we default to the federal minimum which is $7.25 per hour.
It was my understanding that every worker in the state of New Hampshire receives at least $7.25 per hour; even tipped employees in restaurants; where a portion of the tips that they receive may be used by their employer as credit towards the requirement that they receive at least $7.25 per hour.
Now, I tend to be a fairly literal person – which has sometimes gotten me into hot water – but to me a “minimum wage” is just that – the lowest amount that any employer should be able to pay somebody; anybody.
You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I discovered that there are laws and regulations on the books today not only at the federal level but in New Hampshire that permit businesses and other organizations to legally pay some of our fellow citizens a “sub-minimum” wage; i.e. something less than $7.25 per hour.
These laws and regulations make it legal for businesses and other organizations operating in our state to pay a person with a disability less than the minimum wage, solely based on the fact that they have a disability. Any New Hampshire business not engaged in interstate commerce with less than $500,000 in total sales can apply to pay subminimum wages to a person with a disability under RSA 279:22, and 279:22-a. New Hampshire businesses who are engaged in interstate commerce or have more than $500,000 in total sales can apply to the U.S. Department of Labor under section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Now in fairness to everyone involved, many of these laws and regulations were adopted 40, 50 and 60 years ago, when attitudes towards persons with a disability were different; remember the Laconia State School did not close until 1991. Public perceptions – particularly early on when these laws were enacted – were that any job, regardless of how menial or low-paying was better than nothing; even if that meant working in a so-called “sheltered workplace” segregated from the general workforce.
In the intervening years public attitudes and laws – the Americans with Disability Act, for example – have changed and efforts to assist persons with a disability are no longer focused on “caring for” or “housing” them, but rather on providing them with the same rights to exercise self-determination, be independent, be productive and be integrated and included in all facets of community life.
There are efforts underway to update the Fair Labor Standards Act and eliminate federal protection for subminimum wages. If enacted HB 1174 will commit the State of New Hampshire to the goal of also doing so at the state level.
The bill does not immediately “outlaw” sub-minimum wages because quite frankly even though there are RSA’s and regulations on the books, no one in the state knows how widespread the practice is.
We do know that three Community Rehabilitation Programs have received Section 14c authorization certificates from the U.S. Department of Labor authorizing them to pay subminimum wages in New Hampshire – they are Great Bay Services in Newington, Easter Seals in Manchester and Community Services Center in Berlin – but we don’t know how many people are being paid a sub-minimum wage by them.
We also do not know how many employers have applied under RSA 279-22 or 279-22-a and how many people they are paying sub-minimum wages to.
Finally, it’s important that we ensure that we do no harm. My purpose in introducing this bill is to increase the opportunities for persons with a disability to earn not only a living but a competitive wage. It’s critical therefore that we study all aspects of this issue, anticipate the impact that any change in law or regulations that is suggested might have and put in place programs or actions to address them, so that after any of these suggested changes go into effect, everyone in our state – employers, persons with a disability and persons without a disability – will benefit.
If you approve this bill, the only immediate action that you will be taking is to recommend that a commission be established to study this issue and make recommendations for proposed legislation. Membership on the commission would include representatives from the appropriate state agencies, the legislature, advocates for disability rights, employers and…..a person with a disability. In drafting the bill there is one group that I forgot to include – the Disabilities Rights Center – and I will be requesting an amendment from Legislative Services to them as a member of the commission.*
I encourage you to vote in favor of this bill and I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have. If you have none, please let me introduce you to Laurie McCray.
* In the bill that was finally approved by the Labor Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee, the commission was changed to a study committee consisting of four members of the house of representatives and 1 state senator.
The tree is down, the decorations are safely backed in their storage boxes and the boxes are back in the attic…Happy New Year!
During 2013, the New Hampshire House of Representatives restored civility and bipartisanship to our political discourse in Concord. Working with Governor Hassan we were able to preserve and further the real “New Hampshire Advantage” which is our people, our strong sense of community and our willingness to work together for our shared common purpose.
We kept college tuition rates for New Hampshire families from going up. We provided tax credits to businesses that wanted to bring new good paying jobs to New Hampshire, by doubling the research and development tax credit. And we provided much needed funding to rebuild our mental health system and restore important social services that help working families across our state.
And we did so in a fiscally responsible way.
On December 26, we learned that the state of New Hampshire would finish 2013 with a budget surplus of $72.2 million. I believe, along with many of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle, that a portion of this surplus should be placed in the state’s “rainy day fund” as protection in the event of future budget deficits. But I also believe that another portion should be re-invested in the priorities that will help strengthen New Hampshire’s economy for the future.
We should strive to reduce or eliminate the $25 million in “back of the budget” personnel related spending cuts that Senate Republicans insisted needed to be included in the budget for the next two years. Doing so will save hundreds of jobs and enable the state to deliver much needed services that will benefit all of us.
To the extent we can, we should also look for ways to provide some relief to our towns and school districts. With the Republican super majorities in control, the previous state budget “downshifted” millions of dollars of costs to our towns and school districts. Examples of what we might consider doing include expanding school building aid and providing additional assistance for public works projects.
Looking beyond the surplus, we also need to have a serious conversation about what we do now that the Senate has closed the door on Medicaid Expansion. Their failure to move forward is already costing us $500,000 per day. It is also increasing the cost of healthcare for all of us, and it will continue to result in a loss of much needed economic activity that will weaken our overall economy.
New Hampshire has the highest average college student debt in the country; over $32,000 per student. That is in no small part due to the limited availability of scholarships and the higher than average in-state tuition rates that New Hampshire residents pay. By re-investing a portion of our surplus in these two areas we can better prepare our skilled New Hampshire workforce for the jobs of tomorrow and – in the process – attract new businesses looking for talented employees to the state.
We also need to have a conversation about the minimum wage. Currently New Hampshire has no minimum wage, and we default to the federal level. I firmly believe that whenever possible, in New Hampshire we should exercise local control over the economy – and that means setting our own minimum wage.
There are currently 5,000 working people in New Hampshire who earn the minimum wage; most of them are adults supporting themselves and their family and most of them are women. It is next to impossible to survive on just over $15,000 a year (annual amount someone earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour earns), which places an additional burden on local communities and state agencies. Raising the minimum wage will provide these individuals with some added purchasing power, will boost economic activity throughout the state and will provide these hardworking individuals with some additional dignity.
The New Year is about looking forward and making resolutions. There are many challenges that we face as 2014 begins. However, we have an opportunity this year to shape the future of our state. There is nothing that we can’t do if we continue to focus on our common purpose, continue to invest in each other and continue to strengthen our communities, our economy and our state.
Happy New Year.