February 2, 2018 - Bow, NH
Given the length and detail of the past couple of bulletins, I will keep this one short. It was another busy week up in Concord, with committees holding hearings on numerous bills of interest to AFT-NH. The Education Committee held a public hearing on HB 1277, to reduce from five to three years the time in which a teacher is an ‘at will’ employee with no right to a hearing or explanation for a termination. I testified in favor of the bill, but it is unlikely the bill will get a positive recommendation from the committee, largely because the current system (in place since 2011) gives districts two additional years in which budgetary issues can be easily addressed by terminating teachers. Uncertainty on the job is not the best way to treat education professionals, and the current five-year ‘at will” period only makes recruitment and retention of teachers that much more difficult. Nevertheless, I do not hold out much hope for a positive outcome this session.
Death Benefit for School District Employees One bright note this week was a positive recommendation from the Executive Departments and Administration Committee on HB 1415, which would provide a $100,000 death benefit to the family of an educator killed in the line of duty. The bill was slightly amended by the Committee but the willingness of committee members to acknowledge that the State should show due respect to educators as first-responders, as it does for law enforcement and firefighters, was heartening. The bill will next go to the House in late February, for debate and a vote.
Action Needed - Restore Retirement Funding This coming Wednesday, the House will reconsider its narrow defeat of HB 413, partially restoring the State’s promised commitment to cover some of the costs to municipalities, towns, and districts of participation in the NH Retirement System. This is an important piece of legislation, one which would provide some much-needed tax relief for local taxpayers and allow for monies to be dedicated to local schools, facilities and services. AFT-NH strongly endorses this bill and I urge, no, I plead with you, to CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE and ask that s/he support passage of HB 413.
Also coming forward for a vote this week is HB 438, which would bar public employers from withholding voluntary union dues from paychecks. The current system costs virtually nothing to employers and has been in place for many years here in NH. The proposed ban is simply an effort to make life much more difficult for labor unions, nothing more. The Labor Committee voted unanimously and in bipartisan fashion, 19-0, to recommend the bill be killed for 2018. We certainly hope that House members will follow the lead of both Republicans and Democrats on that committee and vote to uphold the recommendation of “Inexpedient to Legislate.”
Over the next two weeks, look for the Finance Committee to continue working on SB 193, trying to find some sort of solution to the major funding and tax problems posed by this effort to shift public education funds to home-schoolers and private/religious schools.
NH Retirement System The Executive Departments and Administration Committee will also be working on HB 1754, to convert the NH Retirement System into a direct contribution system. AFT-NH strongly opposes this change and in the hearing this past week a parade of public witnesses, including Bob Sherman, retired president of the Nashua Teachers Union, spoke out against such a change. Even the Decennial Commission, chaired by a long-time advocate of such a change, refused to recommend such a change, so the proposed bill goes against the best advice of the governor’s own appointed commission as well as the interests of current and future retirees. We will watch this one closely.
New Feature! We are pleased to include in our bulletin a weekly update from the NH Retirement Security Coalition. Please read the NHRSC February 2, 2018 Recap. AFT-NH is a proud member of the NHRSC. The NHRSC serves an essential function for our members: “The mission of the NHRSC is to focus solely on protecting the structure and solvency of New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS), and the public pensions that support thousands of retirees, small businesses, and middle class families. To defend the fundamental contractual rights of all public employees, and to fight against changes to the NHRS that violate these contractual rights. To educate employees, employers, and the public on the benefits of a Defined Benefit plan, and to prevent the implementation of a Defined Contribution plan that would increase costs and harm New Hampshire communities.”
Education Bills Also coming up in the next two weeks are hearings on SB 441 (prohibiting administrators from changing grades given by teachers except in limited circumstances) and a series of bills in front of the Education Committee regarding definitions of “adequate education.” The intent of this group of bills is not entirely clear, but many suspect it is an effort to make it easier to declare schools as failing to provide an adequate education and thereby broadening the pool of students who would be eligible for benefits if SB 193 were to become law. This seems part of a multi-prong attack on public education in NH, all with the aim of driving the state towards the privatization of education.
Finally, I close with the note that on February 14, the Labor Committee will hear testimony on HB 1762, a bill with the innocuous title of “relative to documentation requirements for the department of labor.” What this bill would do is strip from State law many of the current regulations on subjects such as child labor and provision mandating payment of wages. In essence, the bill should be retitled “The Return to the ‘Good Old Days’ when kids of any age could work and no one could be sure they would actually get paid.” Wordier, I agree, but more appropriate. You’ve really got to wonder, sometimes.
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