AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2021-07

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February 14, 2021 ~ Bow, NH

Another week has passed and the NH Legislature continues to churn through committee hearings on proposed legislation.  House bills that need to go to a second committee (usually Finance) must be reported out of the initial policy committee by Thursday, Feb. 18, and will be considered by the entire House during its scheduled session on Feb. 24 and 25.  This in-person session will be held at the Sportsplex in Bedford NH, providing a large space for social distancing.  Specific rules and seating arrangements, however, have not been announced by Republican leadership, which continues pandering to the strong faction in the Republican caucus who refuse to wear masks and decry any regulations regarding COVID-19.  As for those members with significant health issues or immuno-compromised challenges, Republican leaders have as yet failed to devise any sort of remote-access method of attendance.  Businesses, schools, and public meetings across NH are all utilizing remote-access but apparently House Republican leaders remain baffled.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that many of the House members unable to risk personal health by attending in-person are Democrats?  Hmmm. 

School vouchers. The House Education committee concluded its public hearing on HB 20, school vouchers, this past Thursday, taking in another 4 ½ hours of public testimony.  Once again, the majority of witnesses opposed HB 20, and in the final tally of those registering their position on HB 20, 1100 citizens registered in support and over 5200 registered in opposition, a nearly 5:1 margin against the bill. Over the course of Thursday’s continued hearing, many parents testified to the benefits of home-schooling, though virtually none acknowledged their interest in garnering public funds (i. e. your tax dollars) from the State.  The committee appeared to obtain little new insight from the line of witnesses, and questions regarding accountability (fiscal or academic), eligibility, discrimination, conflicts of interest, or costs to the State and localities remain unanswered.  HB 20 continues to be the broadest and most unregulated voucher program proposed or implemented in the United States, and will immediately drain anywhere from $70 to $100 million from the NH education fund just to pay out to current private school and home-schooled students.  It was interesting that Governor Sununu, in his budget address delivered on Thursday, made no mention of this major hole in his proposed budget, the budget that promises to spend more but lower taxes.  Quick translation:  be prepared for more downshifting of costs to counties and localities. 

Next step for HB 20.   HB 20 will be voted upon by the Education Committee on this coming Wednesday, Feb. 17.  The committee will likely take up a number of amendments to the bill, but attempts to improve this travesty of legislation are akin to putting lipstick on a pig.  Might look a little better, but it is still a pig.  Please contact members of the House Education Committee by using the following link and ask them to Defeat HB 20 and Say No to Vouchers .

HB 607, a local voucher bill. Earlier in the week, the House Education Committee held a public hearing on HB 607, to establish local education savings accounts (vouchers).  HB 607 does what one might think is impossible—it is even more loosely drawn than HB20!  In this case, the legislation proposes to allow the parent to withdraw the student from the district public school and in turn, be provided with 85% of the average local per student cost of education.  The parent who pays, for example, $6000 in school taxes could be provided $10,000 to $13,000 per student in an education savings account (voucher).  Multiply that by the number of students the family decides to home-school and one can easily see this as a major financial windfall for certain families.  Moreover, HB 607 is even more vague than HB 20 on how this money could be spent, and again, provides no real or independent accountability (fiscal or academic).  At one point, the prime sponsor even admitted the parent could legitimately pay a sibling to “tutor” the child, meaning the money is then freely retained within the family.  As for the local school district, the financial losses would be incalculable, which the prime sponsor also admitted (he was asked about his own town and could offer no response on estimated costs).  For a party that used to pride itself on fiscal conservatism and responsibility, HB 20 and HB 607 are straightforward giveaways of public funds, with virtually no strings attached.  All they will accomplish is further destabilize the public schools of NH whose students annually rank within the top 5 nationally in terms of academic achievement.  The system works, so let’s dismantle it!

The Education Committee will vote on HB 607 on Tuesday morning, February 16.  As with HB 20, it is important that your voice be heard. Please take action and Ask the committee members to vote Inexpedient to Legislate on HB 607.

Right to Work. In other news, the Senate unsurprisingly voted to pass SB 61, the so-called “right to work” bill, and send it to the House.  Prime sponsor Senator Reagan, about whom more is written below, promised this would bring in more jobs and higher wages.  The evidence, of course, is to the contrary, since states with “right to work” laws have lower average wages, since unions are drastically weakened by this sort of legislation, and labor unions lead the way in raising wages for all working people.  Back in 2017, when a similar bill was heard before the House Labor Committee, the president of the Business and Industry Association (BIA) testified in favor of “right to work,” but under relentless questioning, finally admitted the truth—it had nothing to do with wages, the BIA just hates unions.  Plain and simple, and nothing has changed over the last four years.

SB 61 will presumably now go to the House Labor Committee for hearings, and come to the floor of the House for a vote sometime in March.  Be prepared to join in the campaign to defeat “right to work” once again here in NH.

More bad behavior. We close with two additional notes.  First, in this week’s catalog of Republican bad behavior, the winner is the aforementioned Senator Regan.  During a Senate committee hearing, Senator Sharon Carson recessed the hearing for 10 minutes in order to take a phone call concerning her daughter’s serious medical condition.  A gentleman as always, Regan complained about it, then muttered “b****” before realizing (or being told) his microphone was still on.  While he later apologized, this behavior fits in perfectly with the boorish, unprofessional and frankly disgusting behaviors being exhibited by Republicans in the legislature. 

CDC Guidance. Second and last, you likely have heard Governor Sununu repeatedly chastising teachers for seeking to be vaccinated as part of a return to in-person teaching.  Late this week, the CDC issued detailed and scientifically-based recommendations on school reopening.  The CDC calls for universal mask-wearing in schools, 6-foot distancing between students (not the 3-feet some districts are peddling), and the prioritizing of teachers and school staff as frontline essential workers in regards to vaccination.  Nowhere does the CDC urge immediate vaccination of ski patrol staff, such as those who work at Waterville Valley, the ski resort owned by the Sununu family.  While everyone, parents, teachers, students, and even the governor want schools to resume face-to-face teaching and learning, the CDC does not mandate reopening, and in fact continues to urge temporary closures in cases of active in-school outbreaks of COVID or when there is persistent and high community rates of transfer.  As usual, the governor will likely bark some more about those “teacher unions” who suddenly seem to have the power to determine school reopening.  As in the summer when the governor and the Dept. of Education provided no serious guidance to school districts regarding re-opening, there will be no real leadership once again, only political posturing.  Political gamesmanship while putting the health of students, teachers, and school staff at risk. 

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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. This was a busy week on retirement bills. You can find the legislation tracker following retirement bills by clicking on the following link NHRSC UPDATES.

 

For breaking news and other legislative information, please be sure to like us on Facebook at AFT New Hampshire or follow us on Twitter @AFTNewHampshire to receive the latest news.  Please share this with friends so they can sign up for this bulletin at www.aft-nh.org.

 

The Week Ahead. Here is a schedule of hearings and executive sessions for other bills being tracked by AFT-NH.

 

Time

Bill

Description

Event

Thu 2/11 9:00 AM

HB 20

Establishing The Richard "dick" Hinch Education Freedom Account Program.

Public Hearing

Thu 2/11 9:00 AM

HB 113

Relative to Payment For Earned But Unused Vacation or Personal Time.

Public Hearing

Thu 2/11 1:00 PM

HB 107

Relative to The Minimum Hourly Rate.

Executive Session

Thu 2/11 1:00 PM

HB 303

Relative to Required Pay.

Executive Session

Thu 2/11 1:00 PM

HB 231

Relative to Workplace Lactation Rights.

Executive Session

Thu 2/11 1:00 PM

HB 258

Relative to Employee Time Records.

Executive Session

Thu 2/11 1:00 PM

HB 563

Establishing A Committee to Study A Living Wage and The Utilization Of Public Assistance Among Low Wage Workers and Their Families In New Hampshire.

Executive Session

Thu 2/11 1:00 PM

HB 259

Relative to Employee Uniforms.

Executive Session

Thu 2/11 1:00 PM

HB 448

Establishing A Committee to Study and Compare Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act Standards with The Safety and Health Standards The New Hampshire Department Of Labor Uses For Public Sector Employees.

Executive Session

Thu 2/11 1:00 PM

HB 348

Requiring A Public Employer to Provide Notice Of A New or Amended Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Executive Session

Fri 2/12 1:30 PM

HB 465

Relative to Permissible Campaign Contributions By Business Organizations and Labor Unions.

Executive Session

Tue 2/16 9:00 AM

HB 613

Relative to State Aid to School Districts with Special Education Pupils.

Executive Session

Tue 2/16 9:00 AM

HB 607

Establishing Local Education Savings Accounts For Students.

Executive Session

Tue 2/16 10:00 AM

HB 521

Relative to The Chartered Public School Annual Grant For Leased Space.

Public Hearing

Tue 2/16 10:30 AM

HB 521

Relative to The Chartered Public School Annual Grant For Leased Space.

Executive Session

Tue 2/16 10:30 AM

HB 623

Relative to Education Funding.

Executive Session

Tue 2/16 12:30 PM

HB 608

Relative to The Formula For Determining Funding For An Adequate Education.

Public Hearing

 

 

 

 

Wed 2/17 9:00 AM

HB 323

Relative to A Statewide Student Assessment Report.

Public Hearing

Wed 2/17 9:45 AM

HB 608

Relative to The Formula For Determining Funding For An Adequate Education.

Executive Session

Wed 2/17 9:45 AM

HB 20

Establishing The Richard "dick" Hinch Education Freedom Account Program.

Executive Session

Wed 2/17 9:45 AM

HB 594

Relative to The School Building Aid Program.

Executive Session

Wed 2/17 1:30 PM

HB 504

Relative to The State Education Property Tax and The Low and Moderate Income Homeowners Property Tax Relief Program.

Public Hearing

Wed 2/17 1:30 PM

SB 2

Allowing The Preprocessing Of Absentee Ballots For Certain 2021 Elections and Allowing For The Postponement Of Annual Town Meetings In Calendar Year 2021 Where Concerns Exist During The Covid-19 Health Emergency.

Executive Session

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 278

Relative to The Use Of Unused District Facilities By Chartered Public Schools.

Executive Session

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 320

Requiring A Civics Competency Assessment As A High School Graduation Requirement.

Executive Session

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 110

Relative to The Distribution Of Adequate Education Grants.

Executive Session

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 255

Relative to Limited Liability For Institutions Of Higher Education and Businesses.

Executive Session

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 323

Relative to A Statewide Student Assessment Report.

Executive Session

Thu 2/18 9:00 AM

HB 442

Relative to Penalties For A School's Failure to File Department Of Education Reports.

Executive Session

Thu 2/18 9:15 AM

HB 243

Relative to The Form Of Municipal Budgets.

Public Hearing

Thu 2/18 10:00 AM

HB 262

Relative to The Adoption Of Bylaws and Ordinances By Municipalities.

Public Hearing

Thu 2/18 1:30 PM

HB 67

Relative to Warrant Articles In Official Ballot Town, School District, or Village District Meetings.

Executive Session

Fri 2/19 9:00 AM

HB 108

Relative to Minutes and Decisions In Nonpublic Sessions Under The Right-to-know Law.

Public Hearing

Fri 2/19 9:30 AM

HB 206

Relative to Collective Bargaining Agreement Strategy Discussions Under The Right-to-know Law.

Public Hearing

Fri 2/19 11:00 AM

HB 630

Relative to Remote Board Meetings Under The Right-to-know Law and Authorizing Certain Procedures For Rulemaking.

Public Hearing