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Senator Shaheen on 2-Month Extension Of Highway Trust Fund

 (Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) released the following statement today on the Senate’s vote to authorize a two-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF):

“Our highways and bridges face a backlog of more than $800 billion in investment needs, including nearly half a trillion dollars in critical repair work. In New Hampshire alone, we have 775 bridges that are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and 37% of state roads are rated as being in poor condition. We need to pass a long-term highway authorization bill to tackle these problems responsibly, and I’m disappointed that instead the Senate has kicked the can down the road on providing long-term funding. Our country and our economy deserve better, and I hope that when this issue comes before us again in two months, we will put our roads and bridges above politics and get this done.”

She also made remarks on the floor calling for long-term infrastructure funding yesterday: https://youtu.be/huAZlE-Cq7A.

Senator Shaheen has long been a proponent of a long-term reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund. As a co-chair of the bi-partisan Former Governor’s Caucus, she led a letter with Senator Angus King (I-ME) and Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) from the caucus earlier this month calling on their colleagues in the Senate to commit to fully funding national infrastructure and avoid the kind of short-term fix that passed today.

Head of Largest Federal Employee Union Calls for $15 an hour minimum wage

AFGE President: Tens of thousands of federal, D.C. government workers don’t earn living wage

AFGE Fight For 15WASHINGTON – The head of the largest union representing federal and D.C. government employees says the federal government should follow the lead of Los Angeles and other cities by raising the minimum wage for federal and D.C. government employees to $15 an hour.

“There are tens of thousands of federal and D.C. government employees who work full-time yet earn less than $15 an hour,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “The federal government should serve as an example for other employers to follow by providing its own employees with a living wage.”

This week, city leaders in Los Angeles voted to increase the minimum wage for municipal employees to $15 an hour over the next five years, joining three other cities that have enacted a $15 minimum wage in the past year. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

“Minimum wage workers today earn less than they did in 1950, when accounting for inflation. Employees who put in an honest day’s work should be able to feed their family and put a roof over their head without having to rely on government programs that are intended for the poor and indigent,” Cox said.

Last year, President Obama issued an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, yet the administration has resisted calls to support even that modest increase for the government’s own workers. AFGE and other labor unions on the Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee made a proposal that the White House support increasing the minimum wage for hourly federal employees to $10.10 an hour. But the proposal died due to opposition from management representatives on the committee.

“The workers performing these low-paid jobs are just as vital to the mission of their agencies as everyone else. They are licensed practical nurses at our veterans’ hospitals, food service workers at our commissaries, and maintenance workers at our military bases. They are supporting our country, yet they are unable to support themselves and their families on the paltry wages they earn from the government,” Cox said.

NH Insurance Department to Host Public Information Sessions on Health Care Networks

Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Insurance Department will host two information sessions in June on the health care provider networks likely to be available through New Hampshire’s health insurance exchange in 2016.

The first session will take place June 5, from 10-11:30 a.m., in Concord, at the Brown Building Auditorium, 129 Pleasant St. The second will be held June 25, from 1:30-3 p.m., in West Lebanon, at the Kilton Library Community Room, 80 Main St.

Both sessions will be free and open to the public. Members of the New Hampshire Insurance Department will share information about the networks proposed by the five insurance companies that have applied to offer plans on the New Hampshire Marketplace in 2016: Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ambetter from New Hampshire Healthy Families, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care of New England, Minuteman Health, and Community Health Options. The presentation will focus on the types of plans (HMO, PPO, POS, etc.) that will be offered and on the hospitals included in the plans’ provider networks.

“In 2016, New Hampshire residents will again have a variety of networks and plan designs to choose from,” said New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny. “Consumers this year have benefited from competition and increased choice on the exchange, and we are pleased to see healthy marketplace trends continuing into the following year.”

To reserve a seat for either information session, please email Danielle.Barrick@ins.nh.gov and specify which session you would like to attend.

The New Hampshire Insurance Department’s mission is to promote and protect the public good by ensuring the existence of a safe and competitive insurance marketplace through the development and enforcement of the insurance laws of the State of New Hampshire. For more information, visit www.nh.gov/insurance.

Senator Andrew Hosmer Comments on Senate Raid of Dedicated Funds

Senate Finance Republicans Vote to Take $2.22 million from Renewable Energy Fund

CONCORD – Today, Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), member of the Senate Finance Committee, released the following comments regarding the Senate Finance Committee’s vote to take $2.22 million out of the Renewable Energy Fund and use it to fund the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management:

“Just last week the Senate Finance Committee voted to restore the Renewable Energy Fund after the House Republicans raided it to fund their reckless budget,” said Senator Hosmer. “Today, without the benefit of a public hearing, Senate Republicans voted to reverse course and raid $2.22 million from the same fund for the next budget and then permanently raid $1.5 million in each future year.”

Along a party-line 4-2 vote, the Senate Finance Committee voted to take $2.22 million from the Renewable Energy Fund and use it to fund the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Both the House-passed version and the Governor’s proposed budget addressed a decrease in funding for Homeland Security and Emergency Management through assessments on utilities and on property, life and casualty insurance policies.

“Today’s vote shows that the Senate Republicans’ rhetoric doesn’t match their actions.  All session long, Senate Republicans have been claiming responsibility for protecting dedicated funds, including a press release just last week where Senators Forrester and Little patted themselves on the back for protecting the integrity of dedicated funds,” continued Sen. Hosmer. “While funding the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is very worthy and a high priority for us all, the Governor and House had a much more responsible way to do so. I sincerely urge my Senate colleagues to protect the Renewable Energy Fund, which is vital to the ability of NH’s small businesses to be successful.”

House Bill Provides Chance for Expanded, Long-term Highway/Transit Funding Legislation

Transportation Trade Department Logo

Washington, DC—Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), issues this statement in advance of a House vote on a short-term extension of expiring highway and transit investment programs:

“Today we are urging a YES vote on H.R. 2353, a short-term extension of expiring highway/transit programs that will keep pressure on lawmakers and the President to complete a long-term bill this summer.

“It is a sad state when a two month legislative extension is a victory. But we called for this action. A short-term bill through July gives a chance to build momentum around a longer-term funding bill that gives states and businesses the certainty they need, boosts middle class job creation, and ends the mindless, short-sighted game of patchwork extensions.

“If lawmakers squander the chance this summer to craft a bipartisan, long-term bill that expands funding, the nation will be doomed to years of transportation decay and gridlock with no end in sight. And the voters will be left with no one to blame but the people they send to Washington.”

On The Senate Floor, Jeanne Shaheen Urges Action On Her Amendments To Trade Bill

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – During floor debate today about the Trade Promotion Authority legislation currently under consideration by the U.S. Senate, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) urged her colleagues to support two of her amendments to the legislation: the first, would boost small business exports and make sure that trade agreements work for small businesses, and the second, would eliminate a wasteful and duplicative government program on catfish regulation.

Video of her remarks are available here.

More information on the Shaheen amendment to help Small Businesses trade in the international marketplace:

Senator Shaheen’s amendment takes a number of steps to help small businesses take advantage of trade, such as reauthorizing the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) grant program through 2020 and increasing funding for the program by $5 million per year. The STEP programwhich Shaheen helped create, is an export initiative that has successfully helped small businesses to enter the international marketplace and create jobs.

One company that has benefitted from the program is Corfin Industries of Salem, New Hampshire. Before STEP was implemented, its international sales were just 2%. Now, that number is up to 12%, and as a result the company has added 22 employees.

The appropriations bill that funded the government for the 2015 fiscal year reauthorized and funded the program. The Shaheen amendment would reauthorize the program through 2020. The STEP program has supported more than $900 million in U.S. small business exports, producing a return-on-investment of 15 to1 for taxpayers.

Shaheen’s amendment, in addition to reauthorizing the STEP program, would require an assessment by the Small Business Administration on the impact of a potential trade agreement on U.S. small businesses.

More information on the Shaheen amendment to eliminate a wasteful and harmful catfish inspection program:

The Shaheen amendment would repeal a new program tasked with inspecting and grading catfish that places jurisdiction for catfish inspection with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), while leaving regulation of all other seafood with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

During a hearing in the Small Business Committee earlier this month, Senator Shaheen highlighted the impact creating a duplicative and wasteful catfish inspection program at the USDA would have on High Liner Foods, a seafood company with operations based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that employs more than 300 Granite Staters. As a seafood processor, High Liner currently deals with inspections from the FDA. The impending creation of a new inspection program just for catfish is preventing the company from expanding its offerings and operations, as the costs of complying with two different inspection regimes is prohibitive. A letter from High Liner is available here.

USDA has warned that the program may cost as much as $15 million a year to operate and has already cost $20 million without having inspected a single catfish. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, which evaluates risk for wasteful spending, has recommended eliminating the program in nine separate reports, calling it “duplicative” and “high-risk” for waste, fraud, and abuse.

Senator Shaheen wrote an op-ed “End the Catfish-Inspection Boondoggle,” that was published in Roll Call newspaper earlier this month.

NATCA President Calls For Stable Funding Opposes Any Overhaul That Creates A Private, For-Profit Entity

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi Implores Senate Committee to Guarantee Stable Funding, Not Just Address FAA Structure

NATCA LOGOWASHINGTON – In testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said that the lack of stable or predictable funding for the National Airspace System (NAS) is unacceptable and change is needed in order to maintain and advance the system’s safety and efficiency. Rinaldi delivered his remarks during a hearing about the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization process, focusing on efforts to modernize the air traffic control system and options for reform of the system.

Rinaldi’s testimony outlined existing problems at the FAA including negative impacts on the NAS as a result of repeated interruptions to the funding stream. He said NATCA believes the upcoming FAA Reauthorization bill must deal with funding issues to ensure a safety-focused operational system that serves the nation’s transportation and economic needs every hour of every day.

In his testimony, Rinaldi made clear NATCA  to oversee air traffic control services. “We understand that addressing the funding problems may lead to an examination of potential structural changes for the FAA,” said Rinaldi. “But we implore this committee not to limit its focus. Any change that fails to guarantee a stable, predictable funding stream could create new unintended consequences without solving the true dilemma.”

He continued, “Details matter in this process. Our goal is to maintain and improve upon our high standard. However fundamental change is needed to do so. The current problems cannot continue.”

Rinaldi said that NATCA looks forward to working with Congress and other stakeholders to determine a solution that provides a stable and predictable funding stream while protecting the air traffic control system and its future growth.

He laid out the principles NATCA requires for any reform:

1. Safety and efficiency must remain the top priorities;

2. Stable, predictable funding must adequately support air traffic control services, staffing, hiring and training, long-term modernization projects, preventative maintenance, and ongoing modernization to the physical infrastructure;

3. Robust and continued growth of the aviation system is ensured; and

4. A dynamic aviation system continues to provide services to all segments of the aviation community, from commercial passenger carriers and cargo haulers, to business jets, to general aviation, from the major airports to those in rural America.

Rinaldi also provided committee members with an overview of alternative funding and structural models that stakeholders, think tanks and others have been exploring. He provided key points on the potential structural models that have been discussed for the FAA and the effects these changes would have on air traffic control. He also provided findings from stakeholder examinations on how other Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) are structured, and how well they deliver air traffic control services.

Rinaldi emphasized that NATCA cannot endorse a particular system without knowing all of the details and ensuring a seamless transition.

Read Rinaldi’s complete testimony.

Other highlights from Rinaldi’s testimony include:

- “For years the FAA has been faced with an unstable, unpredictable funding stream, and each interruption has negatively affected all aspects of the FAA. The FAA has had to spread its resources thinly between fully staffing its 24/7 operation, modernizing the airspace, and performing the daily maintenance required to sustain an aging infrastructure. When sequestration cuts were implemented, the situation became even more dire. The FAA was forced to furlough its employees, including air traffic controllers, place preventative maintenance on hold, and consider closing Federal and Contract towers which would have curtailed air traffic services at smaller markets. The cuts also prevented the FAA from hiring new trainees to replace the certified controllers who retired, adding stress to an already understaffed workforce. Sequestration cuts did not affect the FAA’s budget for fiscal years (FY) 2014 and 2015, but the cuts will return in FY 2016.”

-“While there may be benefits to the Canadian model, NATCA is uncertain if that model is scalable to the size, complexity, and diversity of our airspace. For example, the U.S. controls 132 million flights annually (2012), compared to 12 million in Canada in an area a fraction of the size of our NAS. The U.S. has 21 centers, compared to seven in Canada, and 315 towers compared to 42. According to Airport Council International’s Top 30 Busiest Airports in the world (based on aircraft movements), the U.S. currently has 8 of the top 10 busiest airports in the world, and 15 in the top 30. Canada has one: Toronto, which comes in at number 18.”

­ -“While considering possible reforms, we must protect and strengthen this national asset; our National Airspace System is a treasure. We must continue to create an environment that encourages the growth of the aviation sector, allowing the integration of new users, new innovation, and new technology, while continuing to maintain our global leadership. There is much at stake. We must find the path that improves the system without causing unintended consequences that set us back. The U.S. has always led the world in aviation, and we must continue to do so.”

###

Certified in 1987, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association represents over 20,000 highly skilled air traffic controllers, engineers and other safety professionals.

Chris Christie’s Embarrassing Foreign Policy Record

(Image by Gage Skidmore FLIKR)

(Image by Gage Skidmore FLIKR)

Chris Christie wants you to think that he’s ready to be commander in chief based on a few flimsy foreign policy statements that he made today. And while Granite Staters comb through a speech that only amounts to lip service, they should keep in mind his past embarrassing foreign policy fumbles.


Chris Christie has embarrassed himself abroad…
Star-Ledger: Christie’s U.K. trip a ‘failure,’ presidential scholars say
” ‘I think the trip was an utter failure,’ said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University and the author of bestseller, ‘The Reagan Diaries.’… ‘Instead, he came across like a bull carrying his own china shop with him,’ Brinkley said.”

Asbury Park Press: INGLE: Christie’s long week: Tragedy or farce?
On Christie’s U.K. trip: “It was billed as a ‘trade mission’ but believed by most to be an effort to pad his thin foreign relations experience as he seeks the 2016 GOP nomination for president. It was a disaster. His foreign resume is still lacking. And now people doubt the image he carefully crafted as a regular guy with regular guy tastes.”

The Record: Mexico trip showcases Christie skill at ducking the “big things”
“The self-described straight talker – the one who isn’t afraid to tackle the ‘big issues’ – adamantly refuses to offer any insights on immigration reform, even though he’s a short plane ride away from the epicenter of the crisis, the U.S. border with Mexico.”

… he has repeatedly not known the answers on how he’d handle foreign policy as commander in chief…

On how seriously he takes foreign policy: “I haven’t given any deep thought to foreign policy,” Christie admitted.

His response to whether or not Congress should approve an AUMF for ISIS: “At some point I just got to get to my car and go home.”

On how to handle Iran’s nuclear program: “I’m not the right person to be asking that question to.”

His response to questions regarding diplomatic and security issues in Israel: “I am not going to stand here and pretend I have answers to questions that people with more experience than me don’t know.”

… and has even been taking foreign policy advice from George W. Bush’s advisers.

Lack of substance and policy speeches full of holes are nothing new for Chris Christie. He’s just as inexperienced on foreign policy as he’s always been, and one speech won’t change that.

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Releases New Report on Work-Related Injuries in NH

Asbestos Abatement Workers

Asbestos Abatement Workers

Concord,  NH  –  The  New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)  Division  of  Public  Health  Services  released  a  new  report on occupational   injury  and  illness  in  the  State.  Data  from  2000–2013highlights   work-related  hospitalizations,  burns,  respiratory  illness, cancer, and amputations.

From  2000–2012  there  were  160 work-related fatalities in New Hampshire. There   were   over  171,000  work-related  emergency  department  hospital discharges for persons age 16 and older for the same time period. For three years—2007,  2008,  and 2010—New Hampshire’s rate of mesothelioma, a cancer of   the  lining  of  the  lung  associated  with  asbestos  exposure,  was significantly  higher  than  the  U.S. rate. More than 53,000 New Hampshire workers are currently employed in high mortality risk occupations, and more than 79,000 workers are employed in high mortality risk industries.

“Work-related  injuries and illnesses can be prevented with appropriate and targeted  interventions,” said Marcella Bobinsky, Acting Director of Public Health  at DHHS. “We must be proactive as industries and jobs change in our State  and  vigilant  in collecting accurate, timely and meaningful data to better inform our intervention efforts.”

The  trends  suggest  a  decrease  in  many  of the occupational injury and illness rates in New Hampshire, but due to issues of underreporting of work related  injuries,  it  is  not possible to document the true incidence and severity  of  the  problem.  Successful  approaches to making the workplace safer  begin  with having the most accurate and current occupational health surveillance data, which are necessary to understand the root causes of the problems that lead to occupational injury and illness.

The data were collected by reviewing various state administrative health and injury databases, the NH State Cancer Registry, as well as population based phone surveys.

To view the entire report, visit the DHHS website at

http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/hsdm/ohs/index.htm

With Time Running Out, Pressure Mounts on Senate Republicans to Restore Budget Cuts to Critical Economic Priorities

Concord, N.H. – With time running out for the New Hampshire Senate to develop its budget, pressure continues to mount on Senate Republicans to restore budget cuts to critical economic priorities including transportation, investing in higher education and supporting the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

See coverage roundup below:

Foster’s Editorial: The road ahead may get rougher

… common sense tells us that if our highways and byways are as bad as our readers believe they are, we could be in real trouble down the road.

That’s because road maintenance and repair expenditures have been cut significantly in the two-year state budget recently passed by the N.H. House.

Specifically, the budget proposes spending $4.8 million less on snow removal, $12.4 million less on equipment upgrades and $14.7 million less on paving over the next two years, according to state transportation officials.

State Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, is concerned about the cuts. He believes that if they are carried through to the final state budget, it will mean the elimination of some of the approximately 80 maintenance sheds around the state.

… We won’t argue that the DOT needs stable funding, but we don’t think it should come at the expense of making the state’s roads worse than readers already believe they area. [Full editorial]

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: Parents worry as HHS budget unfolds

… Renee, 38, was born with Coffin-Siris syndrome, a rare genetic disease that causes significant developmental disabilities. Now, Renee’s parents, Kathy and Mike Washburn of Greenville, anxiously watch state budget proceedings and hope that, at the end of the day, their daughter will be able to continue her independent life.

This year, the House proposed a budget that increases the Health and Human Services budget by $141 million. The additional monies, however, include the settlement of two lawsuits, one involving the state’s mental health resources — $27.3 million — and another involving an increase in the amount the state reimburses hospitals for uncompensated care.

These costs meant other areas had to give, and the developmental disabilities budget was reduced by $26 million. The agencies that use those funds lose much more, according to Alan Greene, executive director of Monadnock Developmental Services. Greene said the funds would have been matched by federal dollars, meaning that while the state saves $26 million, the agencies lose $52 million in support.

… It’s a familiar song-and-dance for the Washburns. When Renee was 16, they placed her on the wait list to receive state services, despite knowing that she would be in the public school system until she was 21. But even after she graduated, it would be another 11 years before the Washburns had access to state funding that allowed care providers to help Renee throughout the day, provide respite care for her parents, and eventually allow her to move into an apartment with a caregiver who helps guide her days.

Kathy said that her greatest fear during each budget season is the loss of that funding, and, she fears, all the progress her daughter has made.

On Tuesday, Kathy testified at the budget hearings, asking that the Senate restore funding proposed by the governor and cut by the House for developmental disabilities, early intervention services and to fully fund the wait list of people awaiting services from the state. It’s not the first time she’s testified in front of the Legislature, and it likely won’t be the last, she noted — Health and Human Services are often eyed for savings during the budget crafting process. [Full story]

Nashua Telegraph Op-Ed: Restore money for rail

J. Christopher Williams is president and CEO of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce. Michael Skelton is president of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

The Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce recently joined together to advocate for the New Hampshire Senate to restore funding in the governor’s budget that would allow the State to continue pursuing passenger rail in southern NH along the Capitol Corridor. Our joint letter of support that was recently sent to the Senate Finance Committee was cosigned by 30 companies based in Nashua and Manchester.

Nineteen of those companies that signed onto this letter are from the Nashua area and include companies like Integra Biosciences, C&M Machining Products, Parallel Wireless, J. Lawrence Hall, and W.H. Bagshaw.

Together with the Manchester Chamber, our two organizations represent more than 1,500 businesses across Southern New Hampshire that employ tens of thousands of our state’s residents and generate millions in economic activity. The Nashua-Manchester corridor also serves as the economic backbone of our entire state; as goes the economic output of our region, so goes the rest of New Hampshire.

Therefore, economic growth along the Nashua-Manchester corridor is important to the overall growth of our entire state’s economy.

The New Hampshire Capitol Corridor rail project could have a transformative impact on New Hampshire’s economy by positively impacting the Nashua-Manchester corridor. We urge the Senate to restore the $4 million in capital funding previously earmarked for the Capitol Corridor’s project development phase. This next phase would allow the state to appropriately vet the feasibility of rail expansion by completing the necessary engineering and environmental analysis of the Capitol Corridor project. If full funding is unavailable, we ask the Senate to consider a phased-funding approach for the project development process.

… At the top of this piece, we specifically referenced companies like Integra Biosciences, Parallel Wireless and C&M Machining Products – just a few of the many companies who cosigned this letter to the Senate, and just a few of the many other companies across our region that understand they need those benefits described above – the ability to attract more young workers in the coming years, along with housing and other mixed-use developments that would sprout around the rail stops and therefore provide appealing places for those workers to live, work and play.

Companies like Integra Biosciences and Parallel Wireless do business around the world, and their work itself is cutting-edge within their respective industries. The 30 companies that signed onto this letter are real-world examples of business entities currently based in southern and who understand our state’s future economic livelihood relies upon connecting New Hampshire’s infrastructure into the rest of New England. Our Manchester-Nashua- Lowell corridor represents the single densest area of population in the entire country that is not currently served by rail. This is not a fact of which our state should be proud, nor is it a fact that speaks well for the ability of our area to attract in the future more companies like those referenced in this editorial and which signed onto our letter of support.

We implore our state senators to consider restoring the $4 million in funding to allow the project development phase of the Capitol Corridor rail expansion project to move forward. Completing this phase will allow for a complete understanding of the costs and benefits of rail expansion and allow policymakers and the public to have the facts needed to consider this important economic opportunity for New Hampshire. [Full op-ed]

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