The New Hampshire legislature is beginning to return to its accustomed rhythms and routines as both the House and the Senate met in session. More important, committees began holding hearings on this year’s avalanche of proposed bills and these hearings will continue unabated for the next six or seven weeks. It is in committees where the majority of the work of the Legislature is done, through listening to testimony, considering bills and amendments, and shaping recommendations for action on the floor of the House or the Senate. If you have never done so and if you have the time, look at the House or Senate calendars, find a hearing that might be of interest, and consider attending to observe or even testify. Testimony from members of the public is always welcomed, especially as it brings a perspective different from that of the usual lobbyists and fellow legislators. You might even conclude that you too can be a citizen legislator—believe me, there are no prerequisites other than a willingness to put in a lot of time for virtually no pay. But it can be satisfying and is certainly interesting.
HB 438 In the House this week, AFT-NH was most concerned with HB 438, a bill to prohibit public employers from withholding union dues from paychecks. The intent of the bill is punitive, to make the collection of union dues much more difficult and thereby cripple labor unions. Back in March 2017, the House Labor Committee held a very brief hearing on the bill. With virtually no evidence presented explaining why this bill was a good idea, the Committee voted to retain the bill and then in October, voted unanimously, both Republicans and Democrats, to recommend it be killed (the formal recommendation is “Inexpedient to Legislate). Despite this recommendation, the bill was set aside for debate, but on this past Tuesday, the debate was postponed until the next House session, possibly on February 7. So that is a momentary reprieve and breather, but I will be bringing it back to your attention and asking you to act and contact your representatives in just a few weeks.
Floor action in the House was quite interesting this week, with many Republicans peeling away from their leadership on certain bills. Measures repealing energy conservation programs were rejected, while a ban on controversial conversion therapy for minors questioning their sexual and gender identities nearly passed the House, defeated by the vote of the Speaker himself. Late in the day, a proposed voluntary employee-funded family leave insurance plan, HB 628, won initial approval by the House, again with a number of Republicans concluding that NH needed to meet the shifting and sometimes conflicting needs to care for family or to continue working. The program faces a long and difficult road going forward, with visits to the Commerce Committee and then possibly the Finance Committee, but this is the first time the House has ever voted positively on such a program (it has been before the House numerous times over the past fifteen years). So, change is in the air, but there is much work yet to be done.
SB 193 The eyes and energies of those in the public education community, AFT-NH included, remain focused on SB 193 as amended, the legislation that uses public funds (tax dollars) to set up savings accounts for parents to use to defray costs of private schools or home-schooling. The legal legerdemain is that by depositing the money in these accounts, public funds are magically washed (laundered?) of their public nature and thereby use of the money for private religious schools will not violate the NH Constitution. That Constitution is quite clear on this issue, stating in Article 6 that “no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination.” This is reiterated in Article 83, which emphasizes the need and desirability of promoting education but concludes “no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination.” Thus, the goal of the education savings accounts is to make public money into private money, thereby evading the language and intent of New Hampshire’s Founders in regards to private, sectarian schools.
SB 193 passed the House last week by a 22-vote margin, and the Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the bill this coming Tuesday, January 16, starting at 1:30 pm. The bill proposes that State aid for public school districts be reduced whenever a student in the district withdraws to attend private school or is to be home-schooled. As a result, school districts will lose significant amounts of money, and while SB 193 promises to make up the losses, the costs to the State will be significant, especially in light of the State’s already tight budget and future declines in revenue due to business tax cuts passed over the past few years. Just this week, the Finance Committee reported that the State did not have the funds to resume long-promised contributions to help municipalities and school districts pay into the New Hampshire Retirement System and the NH House voted to defeat HB 413 which would have provided much needed property tax relief to communities by fulfilling the state’s promise to fund a portion of the NHRS. Yet at the same time, SB 193 proposes to find funding to make up the losses due to funds diverted to private schools.
Needless to say, if SB 193 passes, expect your property taxes to increase further, so that someone in your town can send their kids to private school and get a refund on much of their school taxes. Those without children pay those taxes, the elderly pay those taxes, because we believe it is in the interest of society to have and educated citizenry. But apparently those who choose private schools or home-schooling are a special category, and may get a major tax break. I encourage you to contact members of the House Finance Committee and ask them to oppose this bill. The Finance Committee will be focusing on the financial aspects versus the policy aspects of this legislation, so please direct your comments to loss of funding for our schools, lack of accountability for use of tax dollars and the long term implications of additional state funding for this bill.
The process of Finance Committee hearings will take a few weeks, so we will keep you informed of developments. A work session by Division II Finance has been scheduled for January 23 at 1:00 pm at the Legislative Office Building. Be assured we will be asking for your help on SB 193 in the very near future, so for now, relax and rebuild your energies. It is going to be a bumpy ride going forward.
PDF to download and share attached.AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 1-12-2018