AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2021-14

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April 5, 2021 ~ Bow, NH

We hope you have all had a chance to enjoy the sunshine this weekend.  It truly does seem Spring may be arriving, what with crocuses flowering, willows beginning to get color and even forsythia beginning to bud out.  Springtime-when hope bursts forth!

In the NH Legislature, the upcoming week will prove to be busy, with three full days of session planned at the Bedford Sportsplex.  These will be the first House sessions since late February and there are over 300 bills on the docket, plus the State budget.  Needless to say, these will be long and exhausting days.  You can review the bills to be considered by the House this week by clicking here: NH House Calendar April 2, 2021

NH State Budget (House version):  As you have likely read, the NH state budget put together by the Republican majority contains numerous extraneous provisions placed into it in an attempt to lure enough far Right Republicans to vote for it.  These include severe restrictions on reproductive freedoms in NH, a bill to prohibit discussion of “divisive concepts” by any State agency or any agency or organization receiving State funds, and severe limitations upon the Governor’s powers to declare and act in a state of emergency.  For educators, this would likely have meant teaching in-person throughout the pandemic and looking forward, prohibiting at all levels discussions of issues of race, gender and class, whether in US history or in teaching about contemporary issues.  The prohibition against “divisive concepts” is a return to some sort of mythologized past, when we were supposedly taught that all is good, nothing to worry about, no need for anyone to protest or even criticize.  It is a “head in the sand” approach to education and would make NH a laughingstock.

Elsewhere in the budget, Republicans are pushing a false narrative of property tax reductions for taxpayers in regards to the statewide property tax for public education.  They plan to use approximately $100M in General Fund revenues and unexpended Education Trust Fund money from the last budget and lower the statewide education property tax (SWEPT) in the 2022-23 fiscal year.  Sounds good, until you realize two things.  First, the funds to pay for education still have to come from somewhere, so in many locales, increases in the local property tax rate could result.  Second, the Republicans plan to reimburse property-rich towns who will collect less money via SWEPT, meaning a wealthy community such as Wolfeboro will pay less AND then be reimbursed for that by the State.  It is complicated, but it is basically the rest of us supporting those who are least in need.  At the same time, districts across the State face the prospect of fewer State dollars coming to them next year due to numerous enrollment and registration issues stemming from the pandemic, as well as the budget eliminating programs to provide additional aid to property-poor towns.  Why not use the surplus funds to make up this shortfall and help those districts most in need?  Instead, the Republican House budget will offer up the false promise of lower property taxes through what is essentially a shell game. An amendment to correct this misuse of funds will be offered but passage will be difficult. Keep all this in mind and watch to see whether your state reps vote for this disaster of a state budget, one that is likely to be dead on arrival in the NH Senate.

SB 61 “right to work”:  On this past Tuesday, the House Labor Committee voted along party lines to pass the so-called “right to work” bill sponsored by Republican legislators in thrall to corporate interests and Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.  The bill now goes to the floor of the House for a final vote, but that vote will not happen soon.  Due to the crush of business already slated to be dealt with this coming week, Republican leadership postponed consideration of SB61.  This is good news, but it is imperative that we keep up the pressure on lawmakers.  Use this link to tell your legislator(s) that so-called “right to work” is bad for NH families, bad for the NH economy, and a gross intrusion of the State into private-sector negotiations.

HB 206:  As previously noted in this weekly bulletin, HB 206 is a foolish legislative proposal to require all public employer-employee negotiations be held in public.  Given that negotiations can often be tense but can also feature either side taking positions and then backing away in later bargaining sessions in order to make gains elsewhere, the notion of public negotiation is neither especially desirable or workable.  HB 206 would mandate a major change to the process of public sector negotiation, and the impact could very well prove more harmful to the employer than the employee team.  The public ultimately votes to approve or reject all such agreements already, so there seems little need for this legislation whatsoever. This bill was recommended Ought to Pass by a 11-10 vote of the House Judiciary Committee and is headed to a floor fight this week.

HB 111:  This is a proposed bill to eliminate certain qualified immunities protecting public employees.  While we certainly want to see gross violations of law and constitutional rights by public employees be subject to prosecution, the impact of this law remains unclear.  It could remove protections from educators as well as law enforcement, from municipal employees and firefighters.  Given the continuing uncertainties regarding the impact and scope of this proposed legislation, we would urge that the bill be set aside and the issue receive further study, more study than the relatively cursory hearing it received in committee. This bill was voted Ought to Pass by a vote of 19-2 and is on the Consent Calendar this week. If the bill passes the House it will move to the State Senate for a public hearing.

If you have concerns about either HB 206 or HB 111, you are encouraged to contact your own state representative and let the representative know of your concerns. You can find your reps at the following link: Find Your State Representative.

And finally, school reopening:  Out of the blue, Gov. Sununu surprised everyone this past week by suddenly announcing all public schools must be fully back to in-person sessions beginning April 19. The announcement came without prior consultation with school boards, school superintendents, or any of the administrators of school districts across NH.  How districts are to manage issues of social distancing on buses, in cafeterias or in small and crowded classrooms is entirely unknown.  Even the Dept. of Education appears to have had no warning this was coming.  With teachers not yet entirely vaccinated, with Spring vacation coming at the end of April, it would make much better sense to wait a little longer, but Governor Sununu lives in his own little world, one that differs from the real and complicated world you & I inhabit.  So, we can only hope that with COVID numbers rising in NH, this does not lead to unnecessary illnesses or anything worse. 

The weather forecast is for continued warming temperatures, and while we could all use some soaking rains, at least there is no snow predicted.  Spring is upon us! Stay safe, stay healthy! 

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NH Retirement Security Coalition   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 NHRSC UPDATES. AFT-NH is a member of the NH Retirement Security Coalition (NHRSC).