AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2018-11

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March 9, 2018 - Bow, NH

The House made significant progress on its backlog of legislation this week but with snow forcing cancellation of Thursday’s session, a good number of legislative proposals now won’t come up until March 15.  With the deadline of March 22 for bills to go to the Senate, the House has its work cut out for it. 

In a Nutshell   As always there is a mix of the good and the not-so-good in reviewing House actions.  Highlights from the Consent Calendar include legislative deaths for HB 1803 (banning payroll deductions for union dues or any non-governmental entities) and HB 1608 (banning compensation for public employees on leave).  The former would have caused great harm for United Way, AFLAC, etc. along with labor unions, while the latter would violate provisions in many collective bargaining agreements and remove the issue from local control.  HB 1603, authorizing an employee representative on the investment committee of the NHRS did pass, thereby offering at least a small opportunity for voicing the concerns of those who pay into the retirement system and for whom the system exists.  Lastly, a series of bills passed that adding to existing reporting requirements and accountability on the part of public schools.  In and of itself, that may be fine, but it must be paired with the simultaneous rejection of even a modest increase in accountability for home-schoolers or increasing the required percentage of certified or experienced teachers in charter schools.  Then there is also SB 193, which still contains virtually no accountability for home-schoolers or private schools benefitting from public funds.  Just a smidge of inconsistency there!

5-Year Probationary Period Stands for Teachers With regards to legislation actually considered on the floor by the House, outcomes were rather positive this week.  HB 1277, reducing the number of years from five to three in which a teacher can be let go without cause or recourse at the end of a school year failed in the House.  This was not a surprise, but still a disappointment, since teacher recertification comes up in three years and a teacher is classed as experienced after three years.  The issue will return next year. 

NH Retirement System and Retiree COLA   Much more positively, the House easily turned back a proposed revamp of the NH Retirement System into a defined contribution plan by a more than 3:1 vote.  Immediately after, the House took up HB 1756, to provide a COLA to retirees who have not seen any increase in retirement benefits since 2010, and by a thin six-vote margin (157-163) rejected the Finance Committee recommendation to kill the bill.  The bill subsequently passed the House and is now in the hands of the Senate, but the key takeaway for you to remember is that Finance Committee leaders argued that there is simply no money available for a COLA or for any new expenditures.  Keep that in mind when SB 193 comes before the House in two weeks!  I can assure you they will sing a different tune on that day. For a complete review of legislative action on bills impacting NH Retirement, please be sure to read this week’s NH Retirement Security Coalition Legislative Recap.

Public Negotiations Rejected!  The final bill taken up this week was HB 1344, which would open to the public all contract negotiating sessions between public employers and labor unions.  Anyone who has ever negotiated knows that confidentiality is key, that being able to speak openly, honestly, and sometimes in heated fashion, is essential to negotiation.  Further, the objective of negotiation is compromise, not total victory.  None of this would fly very well in a public setting, and in fact, the grandstanding and intransigence would only increase, leading to more mediations, more failed negotiations, and more bitterness and costs.  With many Republicans as well as Democrats having experience in negotiation, the House rightfully rejected this bill by a strong vote of 189 to 125.  By doing so, the House has staked out its position on this issue, which is important given that the Senate has a similar companion bill currently in committee.  Hopefully, the Senate will accept the reality of the House position and simply table their version, but we must wait and see.

School Vouchers The big question still hovering over the Legislature, at least from our perspective, is SB 193, the bill to funnel public funds to home-schoolers and to students attending private and religious schools.  Division II of the Finance Committee scheduled work sessions on the bill for Friday March 9 and Tuesday, March 13, and the full Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday, March 14.  What shape or form SB193 will take by the time of the Finance Committee vote is as yet unclear.  As noted in last week’s Bulletin, the chief sponsors of this legislation unveiled an amendment to the entire bill, narrowing the pool of eligible students and replacing so-called stabilization grants from the State to hard-hit districts with a one-time payment of $1500 per student who leaves to attend private school and takes her/his adequacy and other grant monies with them.  The goal was obvious—reduce costs to the State.  In doing so, however, the other obvious result was that costs were instead to be downshifted to the local school districts, resulting in higher property taxes to subsidize those who choose to home-school or send students to religious and private schools. 

This week, another new amendment came forward, likely in part a response to criticisms from Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut, who opposed any narrowing of eligibility.  This new amendment enlarges the pool of eligible students, removes the sunset provision, and allows parents to stack this benefit with the education tax credit.  So, we now have multiple versions of SB 193 with varying pools of eligible students and varying costs to the State and to local districts.  What remains clear is that costs for local taxpayers will rise, public monies will go to private schooling with virtually no real accountability in place, and there is no real and comparable assessment of learning outcomes to determine how well students are learning.  Topping this all off are persistent questions about public funds going to schools that can discriminate as to who they accept, continued potential public funding responsibilities for students with individualized needs even when funds go to private schools, and above all, a downshifting of costs of private schooling onto local districts and the backs of local taxpayers.  In other words, either higher taxes or a reduction in services and programs offered by public schools. Please read the following AFT-NH report on similar programs in other states, Following the Wrong Path.

Prepare for Action   This is not what NH wants or needs and it is placing the self-interest of those who choose private or home-schooling before the broad-based interest of a society sharing the costs of schooling because it is a public good, beneficial to us all.  As we approach the House vote on whatever version of SB 193 emerges from Finance, we will be asking you to contact your local representatives to make clear our stance against SB 193.  We need to flood the legislature with our views and we will provide you the means to do so.  Stay tuned. 

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

603 831 3661 (cell)

603 223 0747 

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