AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2021-02

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January 10, 2021

Bow, NH

To say the first full week of 2021 was eventful is a gross understatement. The shocking attempt at a coup in Washington DC will be memorialized by historians but should not surprise anyone following politics the past twenty years.  Commentary is already flowing fast and furious, and there is little need to add to it.  Suffice to say, the attempted coup bears witness to the continued power and stridency of white supremacist thinking and rhetoric and its deep roots in American history and culture.  Sadly, lives were lost, including police officer, Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries incurred in the line of duty.  Unsurprisingly, Governor Sununu has not ordered flags flown at half-staff in honor of Officer Sicknick. One can only suspect our dear governor is still holding his finger in the air, trying to determine the direction of the political winds before he considers acting or taking a stand in regards to the coup and his party leader, President Trump.

Here in NH, it was a slow week in regards to public events, but the wheels are turning.  Governor Sununu held his private inauguration on Thursday, Jan. 7, eschewing a public ceremony out of a well-founded fear that gun-toting protesters would pose a threat to himself, his family, and the public at large.  Given his long record of expanding access to firearms and rejecting any sensible restrictions or restraints, it is ironic to see the beast the governor helped create coming back to bite him.  But when you play with fire . . ..  That evening, the Governor delivered his inaugural address to the State, a speech filled with platitudinous language and short on any detail. On education issues, the Governor did make clear his support for so-called expansion of opportunities and choice for families, code language for defunding public education and pursuing privatization and the expenditure of public tax revenues to support private and religious schools.  There was only the barest mention of issues of racial injustice, and only generalized and vague criticism of conspiracy theories and anti-maskers.   A day after the failed coup in Washington DC, Governor Sununu studiously avoided direct mention of those events and certainly avoided any direct criticism of those inciting or engaged in violence.  Not the most uplifting performance, especially given his goofy demeanor at a moment of grave crisis in the United States. 

As for the Legislature, the Senate met remotely on Wednesday and completed their business with efficiency and dispatch.  The House, however, met in their cars in a UNH parking lot.  Due to poor planning leading to traffic jams and technology issues, the start of the House session was delayed for nearly 75 minutes while members sat in the cold.  Once underway, both the Democratic and Republican leaders nominated for the Speakership gave speeches that focused on political issues, rather than the responsibilities and duties of the position of Speaker.  Republican Sherm Packard’s speech was particularly virulent, filled with exaggerations, mischaracterizations and misrepresentations of House Democrats.  Many were surprised at the tone, but now-Speaker Packard will have to constantly guard his right flank and placate the free-staters, secessionists, and anti-maskers/COVID-deniers forming nearly half of his majority caucus.  In that sense, his speech was fair warning—House Republicans will likely swing far to the Right this session.

The remainder of the day went as expected, with proposed rules mandating harassment training or explicitly permitting remote House sessions voted down by Republicans.  Late in the afternoon, with news of the violence in Washington filtering in to House members still meeting in the parking lot, a bland, bipartisan resolution condemning said violence was offered by the Republican Majority Leader.  Thirty-three Republicans voted against even taking up the resolution, indicating where they stood on the attempted coup then underway in Washington DC (in fairness, two Democrats also voted against the resolution, later apologizing for having lost track of business and not knowing how to vote).  All in all, a rather sad day. 

The texts of House bills are now being released and are available on the General Court website (go to http://gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/standingcommittees.aspx and click on a committee to see the bills assigned there). In the upcoming week, committees will begin their work, starting primarily with orientation meetings to review the work ahead and to determine how they will meet.  It is not yet entirely clear how committees will work under pandemic conditions, but it appears that members will have the choice of attending in-person in the Legislative Office Building (where air quality remains a major concern) or participating via remote access.  As for the public, testimony and attendance will only be via remote access.  It is not certain whether there will be a single policy across all House committees or if variations will be permitted, based on preferences of each committee chair. 

What this means is that legislative committee hearings will be getting underway by the week of January 18, and bills with financial or “fiscal notes” that must go to a second committee (Finance) will need to be reported out of committee no later than February 18 and acted upon by the House by February 25.  All other bills will be coming forward by March and acted upon in the same month (except the budget).  So, things will be ramping up very shortly.

As noted last week, there are numerous bills affecting public education and affecting the rights of working people to organize and support a labor union.  Texts of these bills are still being released and we will be looking at them in the very near future.  For now, begin preparing to contact your NH Senators and Representatives and convey to your friends and the public-at-large what is at stake:  the preservation of public education in NH, the use of your tax monies to fund private schools, and the consequent increased property taxes that we will all need to pay.

Stay well, stay safe, stay healthy.

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