February 20, 2018 – Bow, NH
A busy week in the State House, though a relatively quiet one when it comes to legislation of direct concern to AFT-NH. In terms of actual legislation, the Senate passed SB 441, which requires school districts to create policies upholding the finality of grades assigned by teachers. Except in limited cases (technical or clerical error), this would make teacher-assigned grades the final word, preventing administrators from altering grades of athletes or certain vociferous parents. Consider it a rare recognition of the professionalism of our public school teachers!
SB 441 now moves onto the House, which on Thursday upheld via voice vote the recommendation of the Labor Committee that HB 438 be rejected (“inexpedient to legislate” is the formal term). HB 438 would have prohibited any public employer from withholding voluntary union dues. There was no substantive reasoning offered for such a prohibition, and the House acknowledged the sagacity of the Labor Committee in rejecting the bill. A similar bill, HB 1803, would bar any withholding by public employers for any non-governmental entities. The bill had its hearing in front of the Executive Departments and Administration Committee this past week, and featured testimony from United Way, labor unions, and other organizations who utilize payroll deduction by public employers. HB 1803, along with a number of bills concerning the NH Retirement System, has now been sent to a subcommittee hearing to be held on Tuesday, February 20, before coming back before the entire committee for a vote and final recommendation to the House. Similarly, HB 1754, to restructure the NH Retirement System into a direct contribution system, has had its hearing and work session in the Executive Departments and Administration committee, and awaits a final committee recommendation to the House. Based on the hearing as well as the report of the Decennial Commission on the NH Retirement System, we hope and expect the committee to recommend that HB 1754 be deemed “inexpedient to legislate.” We will keep you posted. Please be sure to read the latest NH Retirement Security Coalition Legislative Recap to monitor all retirement bills.
Elsewhere, the Labor Committee held a two-hour hearing on HB 1762, which would gut the Department of Labor’s ability to enforce youth employment laws, require safety plans, and protect wage earners from employers who underpay or refuse to pay employees in a timely or accurate manner. The prime sponsor had few specifics to offer as to why these changes are needed beyond vague references to having spoken with some employers, and subsequent witnesses shed little additional light. Restaurant owners want the power to mandate tip-sharing so as to steal money from high tip-earners and funnel it to others who might not earn much in the way of tips, thereby ensuring the employer need not pay up to the minimum wage of $7.25/hour. It is odd to see those who normally advocate that “what I own I can keep” can suddenly become advocates of redistribution and “share the wealth.” Of course, this is only when the sharing involves workers and benefits the employer.
HB 1762 will be finalized by the Labor Committee next week (February 21), most likely coming out of committee significantly amended. The nature of that amendment is yet to be determined, but it will still amount to little more than applying lipstick to a pig—you can disguise but you cannot change to actual intent of this proposed legislation. It is anti-worker and is almost peculiarly written to benefit restaurants, taverns and those places with tipped employees and a desire to hire youth employees.
Two final items. SB 193 remains in front of the Finance Committee-Division II and the expectation is that there will be amendments offered to more tightly limit the pool of eligible students. The goal of proponents is to at least get their foot in the door, or as is often stated in the House, “the camel’s nose under the tent,” for once a program is launched it is difficult to later abolish it. Lastly, the Labor Committee voted 12-9 and the Education Committee voted 11-9 to recommend “inexpedient to legislate” on HB 1405 and HB 1277 respectively. HB 1405 would have provided access to unpaid FMLA leave to those school personnel working 900 hours or more, meaning it would have offered unpaid leave to para-educators who are often part-time and do not work in summers. Although the leave is unpaid and thus costs the District nothing, the majority on Labor deemed it unacceptable, perhaps because those who work part-time are not deserving of family leave? As for HB 1277, the bill had little likelihood of passage anyways, and it allows districts to non-renew without explanation teachers for their first five years. There is no sound pedagogical reasoning for this amount of time, especially since after three years a teacher needs to renew certification and is classed as “highly qualified,” but the budgetary flexibility this provides won out. One need not wonder why it is becoming more and more difficult to recruit and hire new teachers.
I close with a request that each reader take a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Florida high school shooting this past week. Students, coaches and teachers all died at the hands of the gunman, and we are once again left with feelings of deep sadness, bewilderment and frustration. “Why is this happening?” and “Why can we not stop these shootings?” There are no easy answers, but we all bear a small degree of responsibility as members of this society to try to find those answers.