This week was a relatively slow week in Concord, and neither the Senate nor the House will convene again until March 6, 2018 (everyone is off for Winter vacation week). What this means, however, especially for the House, is that there is an oncoming avalanche of legislation heading to the floor. Between March 6 and March 22, hundreds of pieces of legislation will need to be considered and dispensed with by the House, so there are some long session days impending.
School Nurse Certification Yesterday, the House passed HB 1217, which reduces the certification requirements for school nurses. Proponents of the bill emphasized cost savings to school districts of fewer certification standards to be met by school nurses, while opponents of the bill pointed to the complexities facing school nurses. Dealing with injuries, chronic illnesses, serving as a resource for psychological issues, all these involve school nurses. But in NH, we reduce standards to prior levels, rather than render pay more commensurate with more rigorous standards. And all of our school employees know we do not employ enough school nurses in our schools. The bill now moves to the Senate, which is likely to pass the bill and send it to the governor.
Safe School Zones and Gun Violence Speaking of the Senate, AFT-NH was heartened to see Senator Hennessey offer an amendment to SB 357, empowering school boards to determine whether firearms should be permitted in their safe school zones. Federal law bars weaponry in such zones but under NH law only the Legislature can regulate guns. The amendment is in response to the event in Florida and follows NH’s hallowed tradition of local control, leaving it to local school boards to determine their community safety needs. This is a step in the right direction, but only a very small step in beginning to address the complexities of school safety. Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the AFT national Executive Council passed a strong resolution condemning school gun violence as well as the calls to arm teachers AFT Executive Council Condemns Gun Violence. AFT-NH fully endorses this resolution and we wholeheartedly agree with our national president, Randi Weingarten, who has committed our union to “doing everything we can to protect kids and educators and prevent gun violence in our schools. We support every action being organized. . . . We are coming together with those who learn in, teach in, send their kids to and care about public schools, to take a stand.”
While national actions are being planned, many districts in New Hampshire are also planning and expecting student actions protesting gun violence and demanding solutions of our political leaders. So the Hennessey amendment is a start, but there is a long road that lies ahead. Another step along the way occurs on March 1, when Division I of the House Finance Committee holds a work session on HB 1415, providing a death benefit to the families of school personnel killed in the line of duty. NH has been fortunate in not suffering incidents similar to the heart-wrenching tragedies of Sandy Hook or Stoneman Douglas, but our good fortune can end at any moment. We hate the fact that we need legislation such as HB 1415 but sadly it is needed, at least as a mark of respect for those who give their lives in defense of their students, our children. AFT-NH continues to fully endorse HB1415 and we will keep you fully apprised of the bill’s progress.
SB 193 still looms ahead In other news, the SB 193 saga continues, with no public actions taken by Finance-Division II this past week. It appears that a significant amendment, if not another entire rewrite of SB 193 is underway, involving Governor Sununu’s office along House proponents of this so-called “voucher bill” (it uses savings accounts rather than vouchers). Their goals are to somehow limit the pool of eligible students and try to reduce the obvious costs to the State and to local taxpayers, as public monies are re-routed to private schools, religious schools, and home-schoolers. This is all being done quietly and out of public view, meaning the bill could have a completely new look to it without there ever being adequate opportunity provided for public hearings and testimony. Stay tuned, this one will have many more twists and turns to it.
Labor Bills and Retirement In the Labor Committee, HB 1762 (to repeal child labor regulations and gut wage-payment protective legislation) was abandoned by its sponsors and will be put on “Interim Study,” or what is often informally called “death with dignity.” At nearly the same time, HB 1803, prohibiting payroll deductions for any non-governmental entity, was recommended “inexpedient to legislate” by the Executive Departments and Administration committee. Both bills will likely be dispensed with quickly by the House on March 6 or 7, receiving the fate they richly deserve. On the down side, however, the Finance Committee has recommended against passage of HB 1756 which would provide a long-overdue COLA increase to those receiving pensions from the NH Retirement System. There have been no COLA increases since 2010, and there is no doubt that the cost-of-living has increased over the past eight years. Please be sure to read this week’s NH Retirement Security Coalition Legislative Recap.
Police Details versus Flaggers Last week there were also two further developments of interest in the House. HB 193, the “flagger” bill, passed the House and has been sent to the Senate. This bill would allow for replacing police details at road construction sites with private company flaggers, as a means of saving money. However, police and other emergency professionals are trained to, well, handle emergencies, and emergencies (accidents, etc.) often happen at these sites. So it makes eminent sense to have individuals present trained in emergency protocols. When this bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate, we urge that you contact your senator and urge her/him to vote against this bill as a short-sighted cost-saving that places public safety at risk.
Collective Bargaining and Right to Know Law Finally, the Judiciary Committee in the House voted along party lines to recommend passage of HB 1344, which would open collective bargaining sessions to the public under right-to-know laws. Negotiation is not a spectator sport, and much is said in negotiations by both sides that should not and never does leave the room. Prior personnel cases are often brought up with details that should not be made public, and the fluidity of negotiation would only be hindered by public presence and comment. Rather than aiding in the process, opening negotiations to the public will only harden positions and increase the bitterness, length and expense of negotiations. This is a bad idea and we will be asking you to help defeat this legislation.
#NeverAgain I end this week’s bulletin with a heartfelt request that you take a moment to honor the memories of the students, coaches and teachers who lost their lives in the senseless Florida school shooting last week. A community is devastated, and we are all left to ponder what is next. But let us take heart from the example of the students from Stoneman Douglas and the students across New Hampshire and the United States, who are speaking out, demanding answers and taking a stand. They are calling us to account, as they should, and it now our obligation to live up to their high standards and expectations.