AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2019-04

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March 3, 2019 ~ Bow, NH

It may have been vacation week for NH students, but the NH House was hard at work, holding two long session days and disposing of over 100 proposed pieces of legislation.  Sadly, the event to receive the greatest attention was the speech of Rep. John Burt (R-Goffstown) who commenced a speech on guns in schools with remarks construed by many as racist.  The House voted to cite Rep. Burt for ‘disorderly speech’ and he did follow with an apology, but this is already the second time in two months that Rep. Burt has uttered remarks on the floor of the House that are perceived as racist.  Events like this are sad moments for the NH House and the State of NH.  State agencies and groups like “StayWorkPlay NH” (http://stayworkplay.org/) work hard to recruit and retain a young and increasingly diverse workforce, but comments like those of Rep. Burt only make their job more difficult.  The future of NH rests upon younger generations, and that means greater cognizance and respect for all forms of diversity.  NH must change if it is to move forward. 

Teacher Probationary Period From our perspective, this was a good week in the NH Legislature.  A series of bills relating to education passed the NH House and either moved on to the NH Senate or were referred to a second committee (most likely the Finance Committee).  HB 266, restoring the three year term for teacher renominations easily passed and was sent to the Senate.  Given that neighboring states all have 2 or 3 year probationary periods for teachers, as did NH until Republicans changed it to five years in 2011, there was no serious reason why NH should not return to the three-year standard.  This is good for NH teachers, and makes NH more competitive when it comes to recruiting new teachers for our public schools.

Public Education Funding and Taxation   The other bills concerning public education centered around the issues of funding and taxation.  In the short term, stabilization grants will likely be restored to their initial levels, thereby aiding cash-strapped districts like Berlin.  HB 686, extending the interest & dividends tax to capital gains, would provide a new revenue source for NH but would apply only to the wealthiest amongst us who earn capital gains above a high threshold.  In return, the revenues would allow for increased State funding of public education (the adequacy grant) AND return monies to local communities, funds that could be used for education OR for property tax relief.  Given the battles we often face to get teacher or para-educator contracts ratified, we know the public is nearing its limit when it comes to property taxes.  Here is a measure that provides property tax relief and asks those who have the most to shoulder their fair share of the financial burden of public education. 

Finally, the House also passed HB 551, establishing a school funding commission to study long-term changes in our funding structure for public education. It is quite clear that our current system is broken—unequal tax burdens between towns now equal or exceed those of 25 years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled that the State must support public education.  The current level of State aid for public education (adequacy) does not even cover 25% of the average cost of educating individual students in NH, meaning the burden is borne by local taxpayers.  We are approaching the point where the system is unworkable, and the commission will be charged with developing options for long-term solutions to the education funding crisis here in NH. 

Family and Medical Leave Insurance   Two other noteworthy pieces of legislation also cleared their first votes in the NH House.  HB 712 passed with unanimous Democratic support, establishing a system of family and medical leave insurance to be funded in a manner akin to the unemployment insurance (a low 0.5% withholding from wages to fund it).  Republicans cried out that this was an income tax, but it is no different than unemployment insurance, and will provide NH families with the ability to access paid leave to handle personal or family medical issues without risking the loss of their job.  This is a good program, one that has actuarial studies backing it as well as the support of the majority of NH citizens in recent polls.  Programs like this are not offered by private insurers, but the need is real, especially amongst young families with children and those caring for aging parents. 

Retirees’ COLA   The other noteworthy bill passed by the House was HB 616, providing a 1.5% cost-of-living increase in the pensions paid by the NH Retirement System to those who have been retired for five or more years.  Our retirees have not seen an increase in their pension in over nine years, and we can all agree that prices in 2019 are not the same as they were in 2010.  The increase is self-funded by the NHRS itself, and the modest increased pension payments will only benefit the local NH economy, where most retirees live and spend their funds.  This is good legislation for our retirees and we hope it receives a favorable reception in the House Finance Committee.

Week Ahead   This coming week will be quieter when it comes to proposed legislation of concern to AFT-NH.  We expect HB 622 (private sector right-to-work “for less”) to be easily defeated in the House, along with HB 629, creating a State defined-contribution plan for the retirement system.  There are a series of bills regarding election laws, including opening up access to absentee ballots and repealing the Republican-passed legislation of two years ago imposing a virtual poll tax on new voters such as college students by requiring they pay to register their cars and obtain NH driver’s licenses within 60 days.  Democracy requires the broadest possible access to the ballot, and there is no evidence at all of any significant voter fraud in NH despite all the claims to the contrary.  Again, if NH hopes to recruit and retain young people and young families, restrictive voting legislation does not send a welcoming message. 

Lastly, there is HB 383, which requires non-discrimination on the part of private schools accepting public funds.  You may recall that one of the key arguments against vouchers last year was that private schools could freely “pick and choose” students, rejecting those who with specific IEPs or challenging needs along with those who might not subscribe to a specific religious faith.  HB 383 simply mandates that if private schools are to accept any public funding, they must adhere to the same non-discrimination statutes as do public schools.  Public money means everyone in the public should be eligible to attend such schools.  Seems like a sensible concept but the defenders of vouchers for private and religious schools will be crying out on Thursday in the House, hoping to defeat this simple and sensible step.  AFT-NH fully supports HB 383 and we hope to see it pass the NH House and move on to the NH Senate. 

Welcome back from school vacation and let’s hope this week is a good one, weather-wise and in the NH legislature!

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