Yesterday was a good day, a very good day for us in the NH House. As you most likely know by now, a coalition of Democrats and courageous Republican representatives thwarted out-of-state corporate interests and defeated so-called ‘right to work’ legislation (SB 11) on a 200-177 vote. Defying Governor Sununu and his anti-worker agenda, Representatives also blocked Republican plans to bring forward another so-called ‘right to work’ bill in March, thereby effectively killing the issue for the next two years. This was a hard-fought victory, produced by the hard work of a broad coalition of labor unions, faith-based and community action organizations working together, designing an effective strategy, and carrying it out through the work of thousands of individuals writing and calling their State Representatives. The parliamentary maneuvers on the floor of the House were carried out with nary a hitch, but it all would be for naught without the work of so many of you. Thank you!
The defeat of so-called ‘right to work’ was not the only victory we had this week in the Legislature. In a surprisingly strong vote, the House adopted HB 413, which would require the State to begin paying 15% of the employer contributions into the NH Retirement System. The bill now goes to the Finance Committee where it will face close scrutiny before coming back to the House for a final vote, but any restoration of State contributions to the retirement system would be a blessing to sorely-pressed municipalities, counties and school districts. The road ahead will be difficult, but at least we have taken some initial steps.
Not all news was good news this week. Most important, the Executive Council voted 3-2 to confirm the inexperienced and unqualified Frank Edelblut as NH’s next Commissioner of Education. Despite concerns expressed by hundreds of constituents and education professionals, and despite even a letter from the State Board of Education expressing grave concerns, the three Republican members of the Executive Council voted to approve what is clearly a politically-motivated appointment by Governor Sununu, leaving NH with a Commissioner of Education who supports creationism over science, and who defends discredited “conversion” therapy targeting LGBTQ students and attempts to change their sexual orientation. AFT-NH will work with the new commissioner in all legitimate efforts to sustain and improve our traditional public schools in NH, but we shall also remain vigilant and wary of any efforts to undermine the public schools serving the vast majority of NH children.
In other education-related news, the House passed a voucher bill for parents of children with disabilities, thereby opening the door for broader voucher programs which would rob public schools of already insufficient State funding. The bill, HB 647-FN, sets up “education freedom savings accounts” for parents of children with disabilities. State education funds are then placed in these accounts, which parents can then use to pay to private and religious schools if they choose to remove their child from the traditional public schools. This is simply a foretaste of broad-based vouchers, which are contained in SB 193-FN, which passed out of the Senate Education Committee yesterday by a 3-2 party-line vote. Sponsored and supported by Republicans, SB 193 is a full-blown voucher system which would severely undermine funding for traditional public schools and funnels millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to private and religious schools in New Hampshire. The bill now goes to the floor of the Senate, where it will likely receive a hearty welcome from Republicans bent upon destroying our system of public schools, the bedrock of the American Dream and the incubator of democratic citizenship. Please contact your State Senator and ask them to vote NO on SB 193. To contact your state senator, please click WHO IS MY SENATOR? and enter the city or town where you reside. Once you have determined who is your state senator, go to the SENATE ROSTER to find out how to contact the senator. To put it simply, please tell them to vote against SB 193 and that money should not be diverted from our public schools.
Finally, we also saw the defeat this week of Richard Ames’ fine legislative proposals aimed at reforming the adequacy funding for public schools and creating a tax on capital gains, the revenues of which would have been applied to retirement fund payments, thereby easing local property tax burdens. Both proposals were detailed and carefully crafted, but the Republican majority has little interest in improving public school funding and no interest in creating or expanding taxes, especially those aimed at the wealthiest NH residents.
Looking Ahead. The NH House will not be meeting in session next week but committees will be continuing to wrap up their work to meet the March 2nd deadline to report on bills not going to a second committee and the March 9th deadline for the House to act on those bills. The House Education Committee will be meeting in executive session to act on a number of bills addressing charter schools (House Bills HB 494, HB 293, HB 341, and HB 505) as well as HB 339 (transportation costs for students attending career/technical education centers), HB 122 (withdrawal from a cooperative school district), HB 477 (free speech on college campuses), HB 210 (code of ethics for educational personnel), HB 620 and HB 396 (student assessment data privacy).
On the Senate side, the full Senate will be considering the following bills with a recommendation of Ought to Pass by the Education Committee: SB 8-FN (school attendance in towns with no school districts), SB 43 (non-academic surveys to students), SB 44 (prohibiting the state from requiring the implementation of common core standards), SB 103 (limiting food/beverage advertising/marketing on school property), SB 191-FN (definition of average daily membership attendance), and SB 228 (NH college graduate retention incentive partnership-GRIP)
The dangerous bill as mentioned in last week’s bulletin is HB 438 which would prohibit public employers from withholding union dues from a public employee’s wages. Yes, the bill would not allow voluntary union dues to be deducted from an employee’s paycheck. Locals would have to find other methods to collect dues from members. This is clearly a punitive measure aimed at Unions. We know there are dozens of other voluntary payroll deductions allowed such as insurance deductions, charitable contributions such as United Way or voluntary disability insurance plans, to name a few. Despite the title of the bill, this would affect all public employees and all of our locals. It is expected the House Labor Committee will now be hearing this bill on March 2nd and then this bill would go to the full House on March 9th. We will be sending out requests for action on this bill. We will need members to engage actively to help defeat this bill.
So the news is mixed, as always, but we are thankful for all the hard work so many of you put into the fight over so-called ‘right to work.’ Relish the victory, knowing it means you CAN make a difference. Other fights are coming and we will be asking for more support and engagement in the coming weeks. Please continue to encourage folks to “like us” at the AFT New Hampshire Facebook page for breaking news.