AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2018-14

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April 9, 2018 - Bow, NH

The Senate and the House did not meet in session the week of March 25, following the long sessions of the preceding crossover week, when all bills going forward had to pass one chamber and move to the other.  There were committee hearings however, as the legislative merry-go-round never quite comes to a complete halt, and this past week there were more hearings and some votes on pending legislation.  Particularly for the House, however, the pace slows a bit, with only a small number of Senate bills to consider, compared to the hundreds of House bills subject to hearings and votes from January through March.  Nevertheless, much of importance remains to be resolved.

SB 193, the so-called voucher bill, continues to be the ‘elephant in the room’ and the most important piece of legislation of direct concern to AFT-NH.  Division II of the House Finance Committee (a sub-committee of the entire Finance Committee) has had SB 193 in front of it for weeks, with multiple amendments rewriting the entire bill being presented.  Division II is now scheduled to vote on SB 193 in whatever amended form this coming Tuesday, April 10, with a full vote of the Finance Committee to come two weeks later, on April 24.  By this schedule, the bill itself will then come to the House floor on May 2 or 3.  One can only speculate why this process has taken so long, but there are some likely answers.  The legislation is poorly-designed and its constitutionality is dubious.  More important are the costs, and this helps explain why proponents continue to redesign SB193, changing basic policy provisions even though the charge of the Finance Committee is to simply consider the financial costs of the existing proposal.  Are there costs?  At a minimum, at least $100 million dollars over the next ten years according to the Legislative Budget Assistant office, a price tag which in the amended versions of SB 193 will be borne by local school districts.  This downshifting of costs onto localities is desired so as to avoid responsibility on the part of state legislators and put the problem in the laps of local school districts.  Keep in mind, this is a minimum cost, based on very conservative estimates of how many families will opt for home and private schools in order to collect these public funds.  There are also serious continuing problems regarding education access for those with disabilities or special needs, along with minimal accountability for how funds are used and whether the educational outcomes meet the requirements of the State. 

So, what is the take-away regarding SB 193?  The policy is flawed, deeply flawed, and proponents continue scrambling to come up with a proposal that may not be good policy, but will garner enough support to move it through the legislature.  It cannot be overstated—SB 193 is a dramatic shift in New Hampshire’s approach to public education.  It commences privatization of public education, uses public funds for private ends, and creates “choice” where choice already exists (anyone heard of charter schools or the various programs already existing in our traditional public schools?).  We can only assume much arm-twisting by proponents of SB 193 will be occurring over the next few weeks, but the problem is clear—the continuing stream of amendments demonstrates that the policy desperately needs further and sustained study.  Legislators need to either vote to kill this proposal or at least vote for “interim study,” because the policy pieces are not yet resolved, meaning the financial costs are indeterminable.  All we know for sure is that this is bad for students, bad for taxpayers, bad for public education, and bad for the state of New Hampshire. 

SB 420 and Public Negotiations  Two other pieces of legislation are immediately before us as well and of concern.  SB 420, opening up public sector contract negotiations to the public is in front of the House Judiciary Committee this coming Wednesday at 10 am.  The identical House version of this bill, HB 1344, was soundly defeated by the House in March, and nothing has changed to suddenly make this a good policy choice.  Negotiations are carried out in a non-public setting because confidential matters may be discussed, and the process is highly fluid, with no settled parts until the final overall tentative agreement is in place.  Negotiating in public will only encourage grand-standing, inhibit free and unfettered communication, and lead to more mediations, fact-findings, and failed negotiations.  In other words, higher costs for no tangible benefit. 

SB 318   Finally, the House Labor Committee will close out its work on SB 318, the bill to gut the Department of Labor’s ability to enforce rules and regulations in New Hampshire workplaces.  The bill would also significantly expand the weekly limitation on hours of employment for those who are 16 and 17 years old, to a maximum of 56 hours per week during vacations!  While the committee heard stories from members of their days working hard to save money for a first car or towards college tuition, not a single teen showed up at the hearing to demand more hours.  An earlier hearing on a similar bill, HB 1762, also failed to feature a single teen demanding longer hours, but did feature fast food franchisees along with those who believe the decision is best left to parents (not the teens).  So, legislation created many years to end the exploitation of teen labor is now to be repealed or greatly weakened, so that employers may have more access to low-wage teens for more hours.  Some parents may support such hours, others may oppose them, but if the employer demands them, what is the teen to do?  The bill is likely to be amended, but like its sister bill, HB 1762, the best resolution would be to send it to interim study, where the issues can be examined with greater care and the issue of whether such legislation is even needed can be examined and actual evidence and data compiled and used. 

Legislatively, it should prove to be a quiet week, but the real action is now in committees.  We will keep you informed and will likely be asking your aid and assistance, especially with regards to SB193.  In the meantime, let’s hope Spring makes an appearance soon.

Please be sure to review the Legislative Recap from the New Hampshire Retirement Security Coalition regarding the status of bills impacting the NH Retirement System.

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

603 831 3661 (cell)

603 223 0747 

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