AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2019-03

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February 25, 2019 ~ Bow, NH

How many times have you heard the comment “Elections have consequences.”?  That comment was often made in NH over the past four years as part of a warning about harmful legislation or other hostile actions taken by our State government.  It might be another attempt to pass so-called right to work legislation, it might be an attempt to fund private schools with public education dollars, but whatever the reason, “elections have consequences” was always a warning and a call to action.

Our situation is a little different this year.  “Elections have consequences”-yes.  But this time, the consequences are much more positive for AFT-NH members and for all the citizens of NH.  With friendly majorities in the NH House and Senate, the outlook for positive legislation is much brighter than in previous years. Of course, one consequence from 2018 was the re-election of Governor Sununu, meaning not all obstacles to progress have been removed.  But at least this year we anticipate fewer emergency calls asking you to contact legislators, and when we do ask, it will be to help stiffen their backbone and make clear to them that we have a positive agenda and we aim to see steps taken to enact it.  It won’t all happen this year or next but it is now time to begin moving NH in the right direction, to restore support for public education, to care for our retirees, and to establish programs to help working families across the Granite State.

Education Funding Bills This Week   So, what is before us this week?  The Senate is not in session this coming week, but the House has a lengthy list of bills awaiting action, with sessions scheduled for both Wednesday and Thursday this week.  Amongst these bills are a significant number affecting public education in the Granite State.  HB 177 restores funding for stabilization grants to localities, funding that has been declining under Republican rule, leading to school closings, teacher layoffs and cuts in class offerings to our students.  HB 177 will come up for a vote on Wednesday, along with HB 551, establishing a school funding commission.  Nearly everyone agrees our current system of funding public education is woefully inadequate and unequal, with the State only covering some 20 to 25% of the total cost of education, while disparities in local property tax bases lead to vast inequities.  Property-poor towns have the highest property tax rates and are truly struggling to support their public schools.  HB 551 proposes a commission to study this enormous and complex issue, and begin to set NH on the pathway of developing and implementing a more workable and equitable system for supporting public education, one that hopefully will not penalize those on fixed incomes or prevent young families from buying first homes.  Everyone knows the current system is not functioning well, and the idea of creating a commission to begin the process of examining all options is a sensible one.  Solutions won’t come in 2019 or in 2020, but we need to start studying our options if we hope to have viable and equitable public school opportunities for all Granite State students in the years to come.

Along with the two bills just mentioned, there is HB 686, which is also scheduled for a vote on Wednesday, February 27.  HB 686 is a more comprehensive approach to the short-term issue tied up in public education funding.  It proposes to extend the interest & dividends tax to include capital gains, thereby requiring the wealthiest New Hampshire citizens to pay their fair share to support public education.  The extension to capital gains is balanced by raising tax liability thresholds, meaning thousands of Granite Staters who currently pay taxes on interest & dividends will no longer do so, while over 80% of the revenue raised would come from the wealthiest amongst us.   The revenue raised would then be used to fund education stabilization grants at their original levels AND would be used to reduce the State education property tax.  In other words, increased education funding AND property-tax relief for hard-pressed NH working families. 

As noted before, none of these bills provide a long-term solution to the public education funding crisis but together they provide short-term relief while laying the groundwork for the study of long-term solutions.  AFT-NH supports all these bills and hopes and expects they will pass the House on their initial votes this upcoming week.  We also support HB 564, which places the Federal Gun Free Schools Act into NH law, thereby making clear that firearms do not belong in our schools.  This is good and sensible legislation, supported by a strong majority of NH citizens.  We want our children to be safe at school and this is a strong step in that direction.  AFT-NH also supports HB 226, which returns the probationary for certified teachers back to three years, instead of five years.  None of our neighboring states have a five-year probationary period, and recertification cycles for teachers also run for three years.  With no concrete evidence indicating that five years, rather than three years, are needed to determine on a teacher’s qualities and competencies, AFT-NH strongly supports this legislation. 

COLA for NH Retirees Finally, there are three other bills worthy of mention that will be acted upon this week.  On behalf of our retirees who have gone ten years without a cost-of-living increase in their pensions, AFT-NH supports HB 616 which provides for a small COLA.  For our retirees living on fixed incomes this will provide some welcome relief, and the NH economy will benefit as well, since studies show nearly the entire increase will be spent locally.  AFT-NH is a member of the NH Retirement Security Coalition and weekly updates on retirement legislation are provided and you can visit their web page to see the latest news at NH Retirement Security Coalition.

In addition, there is HB 632, repealing the education tax credit offered to businesses and now individuals who get tax breaks if they donate to a scholarship fund to help students attending private and religious schools.  Well over half the funds raised have gone to religious schools, meaning our public revenues are reduced in order to support private and religious schools.  In sum, your taxes go up, which ultimately means YOU are supporting these private schools.  Sounds like indirect vouchers, doesn’t it?  Time to kill this program. 

Family Medical Leave Insurance Program And lastly, there is HB 712, establishing a family medical leave insurance program funded by workers across NH in the same manner that unemployment insurance is funded.  Governor Sununu has claimed to have an alternate “idea” to this detailed proposal, but his “plan” is no more than that—an idea, no details, no specifics.  If you believe, as AFT-NH believes, that it is time to eliminate that horrible moment when a working parent must choose between working or caring for a child or loved one, then join us in applauding those who vote to pass HB 712.  The Senate has already sent their version of family & medical leave insurance to the House, so the first steps have been taken.  Like so many issues, this one will not be resolved immediately, so stay tuned.

“Elections have consequences.”  Yes they do.  And for the moment, the consequence is that we face fewer crises and fewer dangerous moments, but please be assured, in the next few months we will need to harness your energy and your enthusiasm in order to win some of the important battles yet to be fought.  

If you would like to contact your state representative(s) regarding any legislation, simply follow this link  Contact Your State Representative to find your representative and send off an email. Let them know you are a constituent and your position on the bill. A short email serves the purpose!

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