- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Right-to-work legislation that targets unions cleared an early hurdle Thursday in the New Hampshire legislature, winning approval from the state Senate.

The bill would bar unions from requiring nonmembers to pay dues or fees. Supporters describe the measure as pro-worker and pro-business, while opponents say it will weaken unions and their collective bargaining power.

“Unions are good for New Hampshire; they’re good for the people,” Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro said in a passionate speech opposing the bill.

Senators also passed a bill removing the licensing requirement to carry a concealed gun. The same bill passed last session but was vetoed by then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat. This year, it’s likely to pass the House and be signed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. It would mean anyone who can legally own a gun can carry it concealed.

Right to work is a perennial issue at the Statehouse and has, historically, struggled to pass even Republican-led chambers. But supporters see a fresh opportunity this year with Sununu in office. A national push by outside organizations is underway to pass similar bills in other GOP-led states.

Several senators noted the repetitive nature of the debate. Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn compared being a right-to-work supporter to Boston Red Sox fans who waited years for a World Series victory. Democratic Sen. Donna Soucy said the debate felt like the movie “Groundhog Day.”

“We’ve had this debate over and over again,” she said. “And yet I’m fascinated to this day, people still ask, ‘Well, what does right to work mean?’”

Federal statistics show about 9.4 percent of New Hampshire residents are union members. Public employees such as teachers and state workers make up the bulk of them.

Many, but not all, unions charge “agency fees” to nonmembers for the costs of representation and other collective bargaining benefits. If the bill passes, it would ban that practice.

Passing the bill would be one tool to help New Hampshire attract more jobs and businesses, GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said. He challenged opponents who said lawmakers should instead focus on lowering energy costs and training workers for available jobs.

“To reject right to work because we think we should be focusing on something else totally misses the ball,” he said.

Democrats pointed out that no companies have publicly declared they will move to New Hampshire if the bill passes.

Seven senators declared conflicts of interest related to the bill, such as union membership or serving on city councils or town selectboards, but all seven still cast votes, some for and some against. Democratic Sen. Scott McGilvray is the president of the National Education Association, the state’s largest union, and voted against the bill.

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