January 17, 2021 ~ Bow, NH
Slowly but surely, the wheels are beginning to turn in the NH Legislature. The Senate has already held a small number of online committee hearings, in essence testing out the system for remote access public testimony and working out any glitches. The NH House is moving more slowly, with committees holding online orientation meetings for their members.
The schedule for these meetings is in the House Calendar which can be found on the NH General Court website at http://gencourt.state.nh.us/house/caljourns/default.aspx). If you seek to know when specific bills are scheduled for hearings you can check the Calendar which is published weekly or go to the bill search site if you know the bill number (for example, budget bill is always HB1). The search page is http://gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_Status/.
Thus far, there have been no general guidelines issued by the Republican House leadership as to how committee hearings will be held. Based upon what has been stated this week by various committee chairs in orientation meetings, it appears that committee hearings will be in a hybrid form. Members who want to attend in person can go to the Legislative Office Building (LOB) where hearings will be located in only the large double-rooms, with attending committee members required to be masked. In-person attendance shall be limited only to actual committee members. All members of the public may attend and offer testimony via remote access, and committee members who do not want to risk their personal health and safety may also attend the hearings via remote access. Of course, this leads one to wonder why bother having anyone in the LOB at all? Think about it—those committee members attending will sit there and watch testimony either on computer screens or perhaps a large screen set up in the hearing room. Really, why bother? This whole process strikes many as simply a concession to the segment in the Republican caucus who continue to insist there is no danger from COVID and the House should get back to face-to-face work as soon as possible. Further complicating matters is the reality that the LOB has NO air circulation/air exchange system during the winter. That’s right, just the same dead air there, day after day. According to Republican leadership, there will be air purifiers placed in the rooms, but
these are no substitute for a functioning HVAC system. So why bother at all? Why not just adopt remote access hearings entirely, just like the courts, many agencies, and much of the business world have already done? The NH House appears willfully committed to resisting the changes brought about in response to COVID, changes that will long outlast the pandemic and alter so much of how we work and interact with one another. The world will not return to its pre-pandemic ways, but the NH House seems determined to do so.
The texts of proposed legislation are still being released, especially Senate bills, but the outlines are clear and stark. So-called “right to work” legislation is making its biennial appearance, this time sponsored by Senator Regan, and there may well be additional anti-union legislation forthcoming. Based upon Senate and House legislative proposals, however, the real offensive will be in the area of public education. There are multiple proposals for “education savings accounts,” i.e., vouchers in disguise, to permit taxpayer monies to go through parents and then to private schools, including religious/sectarian schools. Another bill is even more blunt, directly authorizing public education funds to be spent in private and sectarian schools. There are proposals regarding calculation of the adequate education formula and to reconfigure the content of an adequate education. And, in a clear effort to ignore the findings of the recent Education Funding Commission, which proposed changes to equalize the resources available to public school districts (the infamous inequities by zip code), Republicans have a bill to simply abolish the commission. In other words, education funding reform aimed at promoting equity across districts is unlikely but increased property taxes will be the product of Republican legislation to siphon public funds to private schools and further cut the business taxes that contribute to the state’s education funding.
So, much food for thought as we enter the holiday weekend and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Let us remember that Dr. King fought for both racial and economic equality, and here in NH, both are integral concerns when it comes to our public schools. There is so much more we can do better for our students and our children.
NH Retirement Security Coalition AFT-NH is a member of the NH Retirement Security Coalition (NHRSC). The NHRSC will be tracking all bills related to the NH Retirement System and continuing advocacy for our members. You can find the legislation tracker following retirement bills by clicking on the following link, 2021 Legislation.