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Granite State Rumblings: Building A New Hampshire Budget And Looking Deeper At Proposed Cuts

Last week we took a look at the federal budget process. This week let’s look at the state process.

The NH State Budget Process
The budget process is the arena in which public priorities are articulated and debated and ultimately where important choices are made by your elected officials. The budget process is a balancing act in which the “separate but equal” branches of government struggle with one another based upon the checks and balances established by the State Constitution.

The budget is often mistaken for an expenditure plan. It is, however, a plan to meet the public’s needs and priorities. There are two separate types of budgets: the Operating Budget and the Capital Budget.

  • The Operating Budget consists of current expenditures required to satisfy a particular mission and/or mandated purpose during the current fiscal year.
  • The Capital Budget provides for the state’s major long-term capital investments; such as, office buildings and prisons.

The state of New Hampshire’s budget is organized and controlled by RSA:9.  Although the Legislature meets yearly, New Hampshire continues to prepare its operating budget in two-year cycles called bienniums with the fiscal year running from July 1 to June 30. The “Biennial Budget.” consists of two annual or fiscal year budgets, numbered for the calendar year in which it ends.

New Hampshire’s Three Operating Budget Development Phases

Agency Phase
The Operating Budget process begins with the preliminary planning process by the state agencies. State agencies are required under RSA 9:4 to prepare a budget for the upcoming biennium. Often referred to as the “Agency Budget Request”, this includes a level of funding to provide the same level of services in the upcoming biennium, as well as any proposed new programs or other changes. From the beginning of August through September 30, the Agency Phase of the budget process is implemented. On October 1, the Agency Phase ends with the agency requests being submitted to the Department of Administrative Services’ Budget Office.

To view the latest completed Agency Phase requests for state agencies, use the following link for fiscal years 2016-2017: DAS Budget Office

Governor’s Phase
The second phase of the budget process is the Governor’s Phase. In November, the Governor holds hearings where state agencies explain their
Agency Budget Request. During this phase, the Governor reviews the agencies requests and compiles his/her recommendations which will be known as the Governor’s Recommended Budget. The Governor’s recommended budget is typically introduced as House Bills 1 and 2.

The Governor is required to submit a recommended budget to the Legislature for their consideration by February 15th.

To view the latest completed Governor’s Recommended Budget for the fiscal years 2016-2017 biennium, use the following link: DAS Governor Budget

Legislative Phase
The Legislative Phase of the budget process begins on February 15 and ends on June 30 of the odd numbered year.

The budget bills, HB1 (operating budget) and HB2 (“trailer bill”), are first referred to the House Finance Committee. The Committee splits into three “divisions”, each with assigned budget categories, to ultimately craft amendments to HB1 and HB2 for the full Committee and the House to consider and act upon.

Once the House has acted upon HB1 and HB2, the bills are referred to the Senate Finance Committee. The Committee considers changes to the House passed HB1 and HB2 and proposes its final recommendation on the two bills to the full Senate for action.
When the Senate completes action on the budget, it returns its version to the House.

Committee of Conference
Typically, the House will request and the Senate will accede to a Committee of Conference on HB1 and HB2. These Committees, usually comprised of members of House and Senate Ways and Means and Finance Committees, will ultimately negotiate the final versions of HB1 and HB2 (including revenue estimates). The compromise version of the budget is again voted on by both the House and the Senate. If the House and Senate adopt the recommendations from the Committees of Conference on HB1 and HB2, the bill is then submitted to the Governor for action.

Governor’s Action
The Governor can either accept the budget and sign it into law, let it become law without his or her signature, or veto it. If the chief executive takes the latter course, the Legislature must vote by a two-thirds majority in order to override the veto.

The full House is set to vote on the budget on April 1st.

There is still time for you to act. PLEASE call your state representative today and let them know that NH Is Better Than This, We Can Do Better.

Below is a summary of some of the cuts being proposed by the House Finance Committee and the life changing effects they will have on the young, elderly, disabled, poor, and everyone else who lives in the Granite State.

Proposed Health and Human Services cuts create uncertainty across N.H.
By Casey McDermott, Monitor staff
Sunday, March 22, 2015  (Published in print: Monday, March 23, 2015)

Today, members the House Finance Committee – the ones tasked with reviewing Gov. Maggie Hassan’s budget proposal – will meet to go over the plans they’ve come up with for their own version of the state’s financial roadmap for the next two years.

For the last week, the division that oversees funding for the Department of Health and Human Services has whittled away at a number of programs – in some cases, eliminating state funding entirely and jeopardizing the accompanying possibility of federal funding along with it.

In votes that were mostly split along party lines, with Republican representatives supporting the cuts and Democratic representatives opposing them, committee members opted not to renew the state’s Medicaid expansion beyond the end of 2016 and not to extend substance abuse coverage to the state’s traditional Medicaid population. They also completely eliminated Medicaid coverage for so-called optional services such as wheelchair vans, private duty nursing and hearing aids for people older than 21, resulting in an estimated savings of $8.6 million in general funds.

They voted to take away all state funding for ServiceLink Resource Centers – used heavily by the state’s elderly population, veterans and people with disabilities – to the tune of about $2.6 million, which will also likely result in the loss of additional federal funding. They also cut state funding for “social services for non-Medicaid eligible elderly clients” – such as home meal delivery and transportation services, for example – by about $10.5 million, or about half.

They decided to delay by a year the opening of a 10-bed crisis unit at New Hampshire Hospital, which was supposed to open in July. This unit was meant to allow people experiencing a mental health crisis to be admitted more quickly and to alleviate the days, sometimes weeks, of waiting many are otherwise facing in hospital emergency rooms across the state.

They reduced funding for the Division of Developmental Services by an estimated $52 million, half in the form of general funds and half in the form of matched federal funds.

They decided to cut funding for the state’s emergency shelters – which provide help to people who are homeless and in other crisis situations, such as domestic violence – in half, taking away an estimated $4 million over the next biennium.

In explaining these and other proposed reductions, House finance officials have said the state simply cannot afford to spend at the levels proposed by Hassan in her version of the budget. Lawmakers also point to increased spending required by two recent settlements, one involving the state’s mental health system and another involving the Medicaid Enhancement Tax, as major cost drivers that need to be balanced out with reductions elsewhere.

“A budget is a balance,” House Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk said in an interview Friday morning, following a week of deliberation over these and other proposed reductions. “All of us would like to make sure our fellow citizens get every possible service from the state to the extent that their lives have been transformed by congenital or accidental injury or disability, but it’s not always possible for all needs of all people to be fulfilled all of the time.”

The proposed budget, Kurk said, “provides at least for basic needs.”

An estimate for the total, immediate cost savings achieved by these and other actions was still being finalized heading into this past weekend. An update on the reductions will likely be released today.

But already, many – from Nashua to the North Country – are worrying that some of these decisions, if carried through, would have devastating consequences for the state’s most vulnerable residents.

‘My life . . . would be over’

For Jeff Dickinson, the most troubling of the proposed cuts are the ones that would eliminate “optional” Medicaid services. As advocacy director for Granite State Independent Living, he knows hundreds of people who might be affected by the state’s decision to no longer pay for these services – but he’s also worried on a personal level.

Dickinson has muscular dystrophy, and he relies on personal care attendant services – one of the categories that would be eliminated under the House’s proposal. This, he said, allows him to “remain independent, continue working full time, pay my mortgage and live where I choose to live.”

“Without these (personal care attendant) services I am not sure how I would get out of bed, get dressed, fix meals, toilet, shower, and do all of those regular activities that most people usually take for granted,” Dickinson wrote in an email. “Truth be told, I wouldn’t be able to. I would be forced to live in a nursing home where I do not want to be. It is not an exaggeration to say that my life as I know it would be over.”

The private duty nursing services – which, in Dickinson’s case, are necessary to monitor his use of a ventilator overnight in case the device would malfunction – would also be eliminated.

“For people that receive these services,” Dickinson wrote, “there is nothing optional about them at all.”

Without the support from the state, HHS Deputy Commissioner Marilee Nihan said, many families will be left with few alternatives for maintaining the care they rely on. According to the most recent data, provided by Nihan: About 10,000 people are currently using ambulance services that would be eliminated; about 3,000 people are using speech and occupational therapies, each; and about 2,500 are using audiology benefits, such as hearing aids.

“We’re talking about families who make $15,000 a year, they don’t have a lot of options,” Nihan said. “They certainly don’t have the resources to be able to fund some of these services themselves.”

In some cases, Nihan said, if families choose to forgo these services because of a lack of money, that could ultimately create more problems for the state – resulting in worse health for those residents and more pressure, or “downshifting,” onto local welfare offices.

Families face uncertainty

Earlier this month, Darienne McGuinness of Stratham attended the finance committee’s public hearing on the budget in Concord. There, the mother of three urged lawmakers not to reduce funding for developmental disability support services. Her oldest son, 11, has autism and receives services through the in-home support waiver program.

Those services, along with others provided through the state’s network of 10 nonprofit agencies that provide support to families caring for loved ones with developmental disabilities, would likely be affected by the reductions proposed by lawmakers last week.

On Friday, McGuinness was one of several family members gathered in Concord for part of an advocacy training workshop through the New Hampshire Leadership Series. She and several other families there – caring for children between ages 6 and 25 – watched lawmakers’ actions with trepidation about the ramifications of the reductions to developmental disabilities funding.

Consistency is especially important when you’re caring for a child with a disability, they said, and the support services that fall within the realm of the proposed reductions provide just that.

“Kids who experience disabilities need consistent support in order to maintain safety and skills throughout their lives,” said Jill Prakop, a parent from Derry who is on the waiting list for support services for her two children, ages 7 and 9. “That’s after 3 o’clock, you know, what they get in school. They need that at 4, 5, 6, 7 o’clock when they’re out in their communities with their parents.”

Thanks to the availability of those kind of supports, Michael Poulin said his son Brandon, now 25, is able to live independently in his own apartment in Nashua. It was “a long road to get him there,” Poulin said, but it was worth it.

“He wants to be independent, he wants to have his own life, he does have a job – it’s working minimal hours a week,” Poulin said. “He just loves going out into the community, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.”
To help make that possible for Brandon, his family relies on help from personal care service professionals – which might be cut under the House budget proposal.

“Our biggest fear is that, with the loss of losing that, it would be a step backwards,” Poulin said. “Our goal is to reduce his budget over time, and we’re really doing good in getting there – if it takes a step backwards, when we’re dead and gone, we just fear what would happen to him when we’re not here anymore and he doesn’t have them anymore.”

Jennifer Pineo, whose 6- and 10-year-old children are both on the autism spectrum, said she wishes legislators realized that reducing access to family supports has not only a significant financial impact on the families affected – it also affects the community, even the state, as a whole.

“We’re doing a lot of work with a little bit of funds,” said Pineo, who lives in LIttleton and sits on the board of the advocacy group ABLE NH. “And I know when you look at it all together it seems like a lot of money, but when you look at what it would cost if they were in other places or not within the family, it’s going to cost a lot more – supporting us so we can stay as family units and work through that is going to be more cost-effective than, you know, decimating our system.”

ServiceLink acts as lifeline

Paul Robitaille, manager for the ServiceLink Resource Center of Coos County, is similarly worried about what the elimination of state funding would mean for the future of his center. Located in Berlin, the Coos County facility logged about 15,000 contacts with clients – some of which included multiple contacts by the same people – last year.

“It would leave a tremendous hole,” Robitaille said. “I don’t know what goes on in a lot of other counties, but here in Coos County, we’re used to partnering with a lot of other agencies.”

The ServiceLink centers, he explained, act as a kind of “front door” for other support services in the community and the state at large. Older adults come in for assistance with making sense of their Medicare options, he said, while veterans can get help applying for benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Low-income residents can connect with job training programs, housing assistance and more.

Many of the clients who seek help through ServiceLink are not computer literate, Robitaille added. Navigating through cumbersome, confusing online applications, phone menus or paperwork can get in the way of connecting people to the benefits they need, he explained.

“If ServiceLink is not here,” Robitaille said, “those questions do not get answered, and those people fall through the cracks.”

Rep. William Hatch, a Democratic lawmaker from Gorham, used to sit on the board of the Coos County ServiceLink. Particularly in rural regions of the state, he said, these centers are lifelines for people in need.

The loss of this program, combined with the potential loss of programs like at-home meal delivery for seniors, could make it more difficult for the state’s older population to remain independent in their communities, he said.

“This is real stuff,” Hatch said. “They do so much more than drop off meals three times a week. . . . This service enables people to stay in their homes, to not have to go to assisted living, to not have to go to a nursing home, which in many cases costs a lot more than having meals delivered.”

Cuts create HHS challenges

As lawmakers debated these and other proposed cuts, top department officials spent much of the week responding to questions and attempting to convey the potential toll of reductions.

The cuts, according to Nihan and other officials who were at the center of the budget discussions, will result not only in wide-reaching changes for the people who rely on the department’s services, but will also create significant administrative work for the department.

In some cases, the state will need to seek federal approval for proposed changes to its Medicaid program – something it’s had to do repeatedly in recent years, Nihan said. This, in part, has led federal officials to approach New Hampshire with increasing scrutiny, she said.

The state is also in the process of renegotiating contracts with the companies involved in its Medicaid managed care program, and those negotiations will also be affected – perhaps prolonged, officials said – by some of the representatives’ actions.

While Nihan hesitated to pick out one action that will have the most significant impact on the state – “I think they’re all egregious, contentious” – she said the decision to end the state’s Medicaid expansion is particularly disappointing.

Not only did the department and the state invest significant energy and resources getting the program off the ground in the last several years, she said, but now the 37,000 people who signed up for coverage through the expansion could end up “right back where they started” without access to affordable health care coverage.

And while Nihan and other officials have come to expect lawmakers to put forward some reductions, the outcome of last week’s votes was far more drastic than the department was expecting.

“There is virtually nothing in the work that DHHS does that went untouched,” Nihan said, “and nearly every single client who seeks services with DHHS is going to be impacted in some way.”

**Note: After voting last week to eliminate coverage for “optional” Medicaid services – not mandated by the federal government but still critical for many residents living with injury or disabilities – state representatives reversed course yesterday afternoon, opting to maintain funding after all.

FACT CHECK: Senate GOP’s False Excuses for Voting to Kill Bill to Ensure Balanced FY 2015

Concord, N.H. – After voting to kill SB 233, a fiscally responsible bill to help ensure the state ends FY 2015 with a balanced budget, Jeanie Forrester and Chuck Morse issued false statements underscoring that they’ve lost all credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility.

See below for a complete fact check of the false statements from Jeanie Forrester and Chuck Morse.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) issued the following statement on the Committee voting down the Governor’s request for budget cuts from the Legislative and Judicial Branches:

Forrester’s Claim: “For almost a year, I have been asking Governor Hassan to share with the Legislature information on the spending problems within New Hampshire agencies.”

Fact: Taking aside the numerous briefings from Governor Hassan and her administration to the Legislative Fiscal Committee, Forrester could’ve simply checked TransparentNH for monthly spending data by agency.

Forrester’s Claim: With revenues running ahead of projections, it was essential that we address spending proactively. Instead, the Governor kept the problem to herself, tried to blame it on revenues even as they exceeded our targets, and finally came forward with this package of cuts to branches that are controlling their spending.”

Fact: Forrester can’t possibly write with a straight face that Senate Republicans are “controlling their spending” after they massively overspent the Senate’s operations budget.

And the Governor has repeatedly highlighted budget challenges (dating back to last spring), including troubling trends with business and I&D revenues and increased caseloads at DHHS (mostly representing more children getting on traditional Medicaid due to a change in federal law). Beginning last spring, the Governor took preventive and preemptive action including, among other actions, instructing agencies to halt equipment purchasing. Right after, Senate Republicans went on a shopping spree for new office furniture.

Forrester’s Claim: “The Governor would have raided dedicated funds and taken money from branches that are living within their budgets, yet would barely scratch the surface of the $58 million overspending problem. As such, the Finance Committee voted down this bill.”

Fact: Again, Forrester’s statement that Senate Republicans are “living within their budgets” is beyond laughable.

Additionally, the dedicated funds mentioned in the bill are transferring dollars from one fund at the Department of Safety to another fund at the Department of Safety to address a shortfall in plea by mail revenue. This measure is necessary to fund state police detectives and the state crime lab.

Not to mention that Forrester’s claim of a “$58 million overspending problem” is simply not true. That number is an estimation representing all potential liabilities, including the large back-of-the-budget cuts to DHHS that Forrester and her Senate GOP colleagues insisted upon. As Forrester knows, all agency spending has been approved by the legislature (whether through the budget, Fiscal Committee, or other legislation).

Despite these challenges, the Governor has worked with department heads to make the tough decisions to maintain a balanced budget, including issuing an executive order that cut $18 million from state agencies and working with DHHS to submit a plan to end FY15 with a balanced budget.

Meanwhile, Forrester’s Finance Committee voted to kill a bill that would help ensure a balanced FY15 budget because it would require the legislature to make cuts to its own budget. (You can listen to the full hearing here).

Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem) added the following statement:

Morse’s Claim: “The Legislature continues to manage its budget, and it is now time for the Governor to manage her state agencies spending problems.”

Fact: Governor Hassan has worked with department heads to carefully manage state expenditures, and state agencies beat their savings reduction targets last year by $8.5 million. Given additional challenges – including more children getting on regular Medicaid due to a change in federal law and back-of-the-budget cuts insisted on by Senate Republicans – the Governor has worked with department heads to make the tough decisions to maintain a balanced budget, including issuing an executive order that cut $18 million from state agencies and working with DHHS to submit a plan to end FY15 with a balanced budget.

When asked why the Senate overspent its operations budget and wildly missed its own budget targets, Senator Morse replied, “I had a lot on my plate last year.”

Morse’s Claim: She needs to stop raiding dedicated funds and trying to take money away from other branches of government that are meeting their Constitutional obligation to live within their means.”

Fact: Again, see here: “when it came to returning unspent money to the treasury, it was the State Senate that seemed to spend like there was no tomorrow.”

(Written by the NHDP)

Public Employees: Speak Up Knowing You Are Protected!

Written by
Terri D. Donovan, Esq.,
Director of Collective Bargaining and Field Services
American Federation of Teachers-NH

NH House Committee Hearing (Image by Christopher Schmidt CC on FLIKR)

NH House Committee Hearing (Image by Christopher Schmidt CC on FLIKR)

All of a sudden there are many meetings in our cities, towns and school districts consumed with budget hearings and deliberative sessions where funding decisions will be made about our schools and vital public services. You read the headlines. The loud voices to slash budgets seem to be heard above all. Will you sit on the sidelines or speak up about important public services and your schools?

You go to work every day and teach your students, plow the roads, answer a burglary call or respond to a house fire. You wonder do these naysayers really know what is happening every day in your workplace. Do your fellow community members realize the pride you take in your work? Or are you just a line item in a budget?

This time of year there are many questions from our members and other public employees if they are allowed to speak at a public meeting. If they speak, can they be disciplined? Fired? The answer is NO. As a public employee in NH you have a right to free speech. Just because your paycheck is from a city, town or school district does not diminish your right to be heard.

If you are covered by a union contract you have protections. In fact, AFT-NH Local #6214, Pittsfield Town Employees, filed an Unfair Labor Charge at the NH Public Employees Labor Relations Board in 2012 which addressed a gag order which had been imposed by the Pittsfield Board of Selectmen. The gag order was passed when union members spoke out against an egregious budget cut and actions taken to implement this cut. The Selectmen retracted this order shortly thereafter but the Union pursued the claim to stand up for public employees’ free speech rights. The NH PELRB was clear in supporting public employees in their rights to speak public about their collective bargaining agreements and their working conditions.

The NH PELRB ordered the following, “The Town shall cease and desist from any activity, including the development and enforcement of any policy, that would prohibit bargaining unit employees’ communications with the public or media on the issues related to collective bargaining or the terms and conditions of their employment.”

Also as a public employee in New Hampshire you have unique statutory protection under Chapter 98-E, Public Employee Freedom of Expression. If your employer is a county, city, town, school district, SAU, precinct or water district you are protected.

 98-E:1 Freedom of Expression. – Notwithstanding any other rule or order to the contrary, a person employed as a public employee in any capacity shall have a full right to publicly discuss and give opinions as an individual on all matters concerning any government entity and its policies. It is the intention of this chapter to balance the rights of expression of the employee with the need of the employer to protect legitimate confidential records, communications, and proceedings. 

Please check for important meetings in your city and town. Deliberative sessions and budget hearings are happening now! You may not be comfortable speaking but jot down a few notes so you feel more comfortable. Speaking from the heart and with sincere concerns will resonate with fellow community members. Your opinion does matter to them. Be sure to avoid disclosing any confidential information you may know as a result of your work. You should rely on your Union to advise when it is appropriate in the collective bargaining process to speak out publicly. Once a contract is presented to the voters for approval, it is very important for you to reach out for support in the community.

You can speak to what you would believe to be the impact of budget cuts and speak proudly of the work done in your district or municipality. When you speak out you offer encouragement and support for others in the community to also have their voices heard.

Please don’t be silenced!

 

 

 

AFL-CIO Announces Targeted Mail Campaign In Select States

AFLCIO MailMail to hit nearly 1 million households in AK, CO, CT, FL, IA, IL, KY, ME, MI and WI

(Washington, DC)—This week the AFL-CIO will launch its 2014 mail program, designed to persuade voters to support working family candidates. The mail is part of the AFL-CIO’s massive political mobilization program, which includes knocking on doors, distributing worksite fliers and phone banking. With more than 12 million members, the AFL-CIO’s boots on the ground make it one of the largest grassroots efforts in the country.

This week’s mail program includes 25 different pieces in 10 states: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin. The mail specifies the economic stakes this fall for all working people. The program is built on the trust and solidarity within unions and is designed to encourage voting even among working people who are discouraged by the weak economy.

Subjects include the need for working people to vote to counteract corporate control of politics, hold accountable pro-Wall Street politicians, support public education and enable paid sick leave. This mail program will continue through Election Day, and conversations with union members about working family candidates will continue into 2015 and beyond.

To view individual mail pieces, click on this link or paste it into your browser: http://www.aflcio.org/Legislation-and-Politics/2014-Printed-Mail-Political-Ads

Guest Column: The Age Of A Fractured Political System

Dr. Thomas J. Mackell, Jr.By Thomas J. Mackell, Jr., Ed.D.

This is an age of fractured jobs, a fractured economy, fractured families, a fractured political system, a terribly fractured American Dream and where the political protagonists, our elected leaders, are in need of spinal transplants.

The soon-to-retire greying generation is experiencing no pensions. Those pensions are promises that will not be kept, leaving thousands of employees in dire straits when they are most vulnerable. Roller-coaster retirement accounts subject to the whims of the market. Longer life spans and higher health care costs. Children in college. Young adults with staggering student-loan debt who are financially incapable of purchasing a home. Aging and ailing parents. A will to work but fewer jobs to be had.

America is dying for a champion who makes preserving the middle class a top priority. They want somebody who can level the playing field so that Main Street doesn’t always come second to Wall Street. Someone who is not running networks of oligarchs who take advantage of our weakened campaign finance laws to manipulate the democratic process in pursuit of their self-interests.

This is the scenario as we head into the 2014 Congressional elections with predictions that Republicans will hold the House of Representatives and, perhaps, gain control of the Senate.

If that happens, forget a Congress that looks out for the little guy.  In conjunction with a non-caring Congress, today, unfortunately, the concept of freedom has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want, without regard to the consequences for the rest of us. In reality, the 1 percent has undertaken a serious effort to buy elections.

At any kind of gathering whether it be at work or at home, Americans are expressing disappointment about the way things run in Washington. They don’t see them dealing with the multitude of problems facing our nation. Their approval rating is at an all-time low. Many citizens say they see no value in bothering to vote.

Clearly, the constant bickering between the Republicans and Democrats is wearing thin on Main Street and leads to a notion of false equivalency. The Pew Research Center says that Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in the last two decades.

The GOP has done all it can to undercut the Obama presidency. Democrats had to fight back. The line is drawn in the sand which has resulted in blind allegiance or blind hatred.

But let’s put the blame where it belongs: on the Republican side of the aisle. The Republicans must end their internal civil war between the moderates and the Tea Party aficionados.

Recently, a number of the members of Congress who have announced their plans to retire have expressed their frustration with the cantankerous environment in Washington and their inability to get things done.

When even the pols start complaining, you know that things are really bad. If they can’t find solutions then we are, truly, in deep trouble.

Despite this horrendous dilemma, failing to vote surely will make things worse. We have a solemn obligation to go to the polls. Neglecting the most fundamental responsibility of citizenship invites complacency and encourages political abuse. Showing up on Election Day proves we are in the game, that we care and that we want to see change.

There are areas of this country where people have been removed from the ranks of eligible voters and GOP operatives are doing all they can to suppress participation by traditional Democratic constituencies.

Today, the American workplace is plagued with wage theft, disrespect of culture, pressure, unsafe environments, unbridled automation and more. Everything solid is melting into air. This should not be tolerated in modern America. We must vote our pocketbook to protect our livelihoods and our well-being.

We must encourage our union memberships, thoughtful young folks and retirees to go out on Election Day and exercise their right to vote. They must be engaged in their communities and serve as an example to those who might stay away. Staying home is not an option. It will only continue and calcify this dangerous divisiveness.

Dr. Thomas J. Mackell, Jr. is Senior Consultant to the International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO for political, legislative and public affairs.

Cheshire Country Democrats Talk About Why They Are Running For Office

The Cheshire County Democrats are proud to release their slate of candidates for the upcoming fall election.

Cheshire County Courthouse (Wiki Common)

Cheshire County Courthouse (Wiki Common)

According to Carl DeMatteo Chairman of the Cheshire County Democratic Committee “At this time it is critically important that we all support and vote for the Democratic ticket to be sure we continue to make the kind of progress made in the last Two years in Concord. There is much unfinished work to do to ensure equality of opportunity for all citizens of New Hampshire.  Every vote matters! We cannot afford to return to the policies of obstructionism and the anti labor sentiments that are prevalent in the opposition party.  Even though we enjoy a strong voter registration presence here in Cheshire County, we are not taking anything for granted. We are encouraging our candidates to pound the pavement and talk to voters about our values and our vision for moving the state forward.”

County Commissioner District 2 Candidate Terry Clark of Keene, states his reason for running for County Commissioner is “To increase the level of resource sharing among local governments. State and Federal funding to local and county government is trending down and we must make the most of every tax dollar we raise. After all, it’s the same taxpayer paying for city, school and county government expenses. I also want to make sure that any changes in nursing home care do not take away the safety net county government has been providing all these years, and that property in Keene is not taken off the tax rolls to house a new nursing home.”

Anna Tilton, Cheshire County Registrar of Deeds who is running for re-election, “It is critical that the land transaction record of Cheshire County be accurate and safely maintained for future generations. I am committed to always improving our on-line services, serving the public and protecting the public record.”

“I am running for re-election as Cheshire County Register of Deeds to continue with updating our technology to secure our paper and digital records and to better serve those who use our services now and in the future.”

Eli Rivera Sherriff of Cheshire County who is running for re-election “During my first term in office, as Cheshire County Sheriff, I’ve been able to increase revenue by reviewing current practices and making the proper adjustments to reflect a true cost for services.  Our community involvement has increased and we’ve become active participants with local organizations throughout the county. It is important that our momentum continues and we stay focus on moving into the 21st century.”

State Senator Molly Kelly of District 10 is who is running for re-election “Through the tremendous efforts of the people of New Hampshire, our beautiful state has begun to make its way to recovery. The economy is growing and unemployment is at its lowest levels since 2008.   We have made progress with restoring funding to our University System and our Community College, providing health insurance for 50,000 hard-working people, and working together to solve difficult problems.

We have made great strides, but the recovery remains fragile. Now is the time for proven and experienced leadership to secure continued growth. Over the past eight years, I have worked with our political and community leaders to be that force for greater opportunities for our citizens, and more importantly a voice for the needs of the people of Southwest, NH. There is still work to be done and I would be honored to serve once again as your NH State Senator.”

State Senate:

District 10

Molly Kelly Keene

State Representative

District 1

Michael D. Abbott Hinsdale

Tara Sad Walpole

Lucy McVitty Weber Walpole

Paul Berch Westmoreland

District 2

John E. Mann Alstead

District 3

Daniel Adams Eaton Stoddard

District 4

James Cleaveland Keene

William Pearson Keene

District 5

John Bordenet Keene

District 6

Timothy N. Robertson Keene

District 7

Gladys Johnsen Keene

District 8

Cynthia L. Chase Keene

District 9

Richard Ames Jaffrey

Douglas Ley Jaffrey

District 10

Marge Shepardson Marlborough

District 11

Luke Sacher Fitzwilliam

District 12

F. Barrett Faulkner Swanzey

Ben Tilton Swanzey

District 13

Henry A.L. Parkhurst Winchester

District 14

Patricia Martin Rindge

District 15

Bruce L. Tatro Swanzey

District 16

Larry Phillips

Kris E. Roberts Keene

Conan Salada Keene

COUNTY OFFICES:

Sheriff

Eli Rivera Keene

County Attorney

D. Chris McLaughlin Westmoreland

County Treasurer

Roger T. Zerba Keene

Register of Deeds

Anna Z. Tilton Keene

County Commissioner District 1

John M. Pratt Walpole

County Commissioner District 2

Charles Weed Keene

Christopher C. Coates Keene

Philip Dale Pregent Keene

Terry M. Clark Keene

 

 

 

 

3-23-14 AFT-NH Legislative Update: Retirement, False Claims against Public Employees, and More

AFT NH Legislative UpdateWe are now entering the final week prior to “crossover” on Thursday, March 27.  The House will be in session Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday while the Senate will be in session on Thursday. Each will have to finish up on all their own bills by Thursday, after which they begin taking up those bills sent from the other chamber.

AFT-NH thanks the representatives that stood with us by voting to defeat:

  • HB 1101-FN, relative to the recovery of overpayments by the retirement system and establishing a committee to study the policies and procedures of the retirement system for benefits wrongfully paid.
  • HB 1493-FN-L, relative to members of the retirement system working after retirement, and relative to membership of political subdivision officials appointed for fixed terms.

We would have liked HB 435-FN, relative to funding for chartered public school pupils to have been defeated as well but the House referred this bill to interim study.

HB 1122, (New Title) relative to the filing with a registry of deeds of a fraudulent document purporting to create a lien or claim against real property was tabled (which AFT-NH supported),  because HB 1565-FN, establishing the crime of filing false lien or encumbrance against a public servant will be voted on this week with a recommendation from the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee of ‘Ought to Pass As Amended’.

As public employees just wanting to do our jobs we should not have to worry that someone unhappy with us could go the county’s Register of Deeds and file a million dollar false claim against your property. Unless you go to the Register of Deeds in your county and fill out paperwork to be notified of such actions, you would never know this lien existed until you wanted to sell your home. It could take up to a year to clear this up and could be very costly.

THIS WEEK THE HOUSE WILL BE VOTING ON THE FOLLOWING BILLS:

CONSENT CALENDAR

The Finance committee recommended ‘Inexpedient To Legislate’ on HB 1105-FN-L, relative to aid to school districts for costs of special education. AFT-NH asks that this recommendation be overturned and a motion of Ought To Pass be brought forward. AFT-NH supports this bill because it lifts the current cap of 72% on catastrophic special education funds and fully funds it. With this cap of 72% the state has downshifted roughly $8 million to communities. Catastrophic aid is a state fund that helps local district with exorbitant special education costs for our severely disabled children.

The Finance recommended ‘Ought to Pass’ on HB 1494-FN,relative to administration of the New Hampshire retirement system and authority of the board of trustees. AFT-NH supports this recommendation. We were originally opposed to this bill as it was a policy overreach by the NHRS, but Rep. Goley’s amended version ensures this is just a housekeeping bill that establishes a procedure for the determination of the costs of purchase of service credits, clarifies the ability to earn service credit while on a salary continuance plan, changes the date for the approval of the comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR), adds a penalty for employers who fail to timely remit data on compensation paid to retired members, and repeals obsolete provisions.

PART I OF THE CALENDAR

AFT-NH is in support of the Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee’s recommendation of ‘Inexpedient To Legislate’  on HB 1228, establishing a commission to investigate the procedure for public employee collective bargaining. There have been many committees/commissions that have studied this issue and too often, it only seems to open the door for destructive legislation.  Rather than risk opening a Pandora’s Box with a study commission, let’s prepare specific legislation to remedy some of the problems already identified in previous study committees.

COMMON CORE AND THE SMARTER BALANCE STATE ASSESSMENT

There are several bills that will be voted on that are related to the Common Core and the Smarter Balance state assessment. I think it bears repeating where AFT-NH stands:

AFT-NH knows that a Recent AFT Poll found that 75 Percent of teachers support the Common Core standards, but it also found that they have not had enough time to understand them, put them into practice or discuss them with colleagues.

If these standards are to work we need to ensure that in each district the following are in place when implementing the Standards:

  • There needs to be planning time for understanding the Standards and time to put them into practice.
  • We need opportunities to observe colleagues implementing Standards in class,
  • Provide teachers with model lesson plans aligned to Standards,
  • Ensure textbooks/other curricula materials align with Standards,
  • Communicate with parents on the Standards and the expectations of students, AND
  • Develop best practices and strategies alone with coaching to help teachers teach content more deeply.
  • We need to ensure all districts have the equipment and bandwidth to administer computer-based assessments, AND
  • Make sure we have fully developed curricula aligned to Standards and available to teachers.
  • Assessments need to be aligned to Standards indicating mastery of concepts,
  • Professional development and training in the Standards need to be offered, AND
  • We need to develop tools to track individual student progress on key Standards.

We also know that:

States and districts must work with teachers to develop a high quality curriculum and professional development programming, provide teachers with the time needed to try out new methods of teaching to the standards in their classrooms, commit financial resources to ensure success, and engage parents and the community.

When assessing students, we need to make sure these tests inform teaching, not impede teaching and learning. All children deserve a rich, meaningful public education that prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and challenges that await them as they become contributing members of a democratic society.  Growing our nation’s future citizens and workers is a serious undertaking that calls for a thoughtful focus on teaching and learning. Since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, the growing fixation on high-stakes testing has undermined that focus, putting at grave risk our students’ learning and their ability to meet the demands of the 21st-century economy and fulfill their personal goals.

We believe in assessments that support teaching and learning, and that are aligned with curriculum rather than narrow it.  Assessments should be focused on measuring growth and continuous development of students instead of arbitrary targets unconnected to how students learn. Assessments should be diverse, authentic, test for multiple indicators of student performance and provide information leading to appropriate interventions that help students, teachers and schools improve, not sanctions that undermine them.  Development and implementation of such tests must be age appropriate for the students, and teachers need to have appropriate computers to administer such assessments.  Because each district is at different stages in their teacher/staff development and student curriculum changes that meet Common Core Standards and the assessment of their students, the Department of Education should waive the Smarter Balance testing deadline for at least another two years.

Further, we believe that assessments designed to support teaching and learning must contribute to school and classroom environments that nurture growth, collaboration, curiosity and invention—essential elements of a 21st-century education that have too often been sacrificed in favor of test prep and testing. We know that collaboration with educators is necessary to ensure that high-quality instruction and content are given their proper emphasis.

PART II OF THE CALENDAR

The Finance committee recommended ‘Inexpedient To Legislate’ on HB 1114: which establishes a minimum state expenditure for school building aid of $50,000,000 per fiscal year. AFT-NH is in support of this bill and would like the committee recommendation to be overturned and a recommendation of Ought To Pass be brought forward. It puts a floor to building aid not a cap. For the past six years many district have not been able to afford to complete upgrades, repairs or build new building because of the cost. Keep in mind 50% of our school buildings are over 60 years old and many need infrastructure upgrades necessary for a 21st century learning environment.

Thank you!
In Solidarity,
Laura Hainey

Please visit www.aft-nh.org and AFT-NH Facebook page and click “Like Us”
Late breaking news appears on our web site and on Facebook!

UPCOMING COMMITTEE HEARINGS WEEK OF MONDAY, MARCH 24

TUESDAY, MARCH 25
10:00 a.m. House in Session

Senate COMMERCE, Room 101, LOB
1:15 p.m. HB 1404, relative to payroll cards.
1:35 p.m. HB 1405, prohibiting an employer from using credit history in employment decisions.
1:55 p.m. HB 1407, relative to privacy in the workplace.
2:15 p.m. HB 1188, relative to paycheck equity.

Senate HEALTH, EDUCATION AND HUMAN SERVICES, Room 103, LOB
9:00 a.m. HB 1132-FN, relative to school building security.

9:20 a.m. HB 1260-FN-L, relative to communication of the cost of services provided under the children in need of services (CHINS) program to parents.
9:40 a.m. HB 1113, requiring school districts to distribute a concussion and head injury information sheet to student-athletes and establishing a definition for head injury.
10:20 a.m. HB 1392-FN-L, removing the restriction on the number of pupils eligible to transfer to a chartered public school.
EXECUTIVE SESSION

Senate JUDICIARY, Room 100, SH
9:15 a.m. HB 1137-FN, relative to annulment of certain obstruction of justice crimes and relative to the crime of escape.
9:30 a.m. HB 1533-FN, requiring a warrant to search information in a portable electronic device.
9:45 a.m. HB 1144, establishing a committee to study information included in arrest records and access to information on the disposition of criminal cases.
EXECUTIVE SESSION MAY FOLLOW

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 26
10:00 a.m. House in Session

Senate EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND ADMINISTRATION, Room 100, SH
10:00 a.m. HB 1102, relative to membership of the police standards and training council.
10:20 a.m. HB 1222, prohibiting commercial use of the law enforcement and fallen firefighters memorials.
EXECUTIVE SESSION MAY FOLLOW

THURSDAY, MARCH 27
10:00 a.m. House in Session

10:00 a.m. Senate in Session

TUESDAY, APRIL 1
House MUNICIPAL AND COUNTY GOVERNMENT, Room 301, LOB
11:30 a.m. SB 236, relative to delivery of the final budget and recommendation of the municipal budget committee to the governing body.

Senate JUDICIARY, Room 100, SH
10:30 a.m. HB 1435, requiring law enforcement officials to disclose specific information relating to a police checkpoint.
EXECUTIVE SESSION MAY FOLLOW

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 2

House ELECTION LAW, Room 308, LOB
10:00 a.m. SB 120-FN, relative to political contributions and expenditures and relative to reporting by political committees.
11:00 a.m. SB 183-FN, (New Title) relative to identification of voters, processing absentee ballots, and voluntary political expenditure limitations.

House JUDICIARY, Room 208, LOB
10:00 a.m. SB 262-FN, revising the form for “summons instead of arrest” and prohibiting attachments in small claims actions.

THURSDAY, APRIL 3

House FINANCE, Rooms 210-211, LOB
11:15 a.m. SB 339-FN, relative to instituting a credit card affinity program in which fees received are directed to offset the retirement system’s unfunded liability.

House FINANCE – (DIVISION I), Room 212, LOB
1:30 p.m. Work session on SB 339-FN, relative to instituting a credit card affinity program in which fees received are directed to offset the retirement system’s unfunded liability.

THURSDAY, APRIL 10
House EDUCATION, Room 207, LOB
10:00 a.m. SB 343, relative to the duties of the statewide education improvement and assessment program legislative oversight committee and repealing the school administrative unit legislative oversight committee.
11:00 a.m. SB 350, relative to the transfer of adequacy aid calculation data from the department of education to the department of revenue administration.
1:15 p.m. SB 348, establishing a commission to study sexual abuse prevention education in elementary and secondary schools.

3-17-14 AFT-NH Legislative Update: School Building Aid Bill, Retirement, Charter Schools, and More

AFT NH Legislative Update

Both the House and Senate are finishing work on their bills prior to the crossover deadline of March 27th (after which bills from one chamber can no longer cross-over to the other chamber for consideration).  The House will be meeting on Wednesdays and Thursdays for the next two weeks to finish up on bills and the Senate will be meeting Thursday the 27th to finish up. Then we start all over again with the House holding committee hearings on passed Senate bills and the Senate holding committee hearings on passed House bills.

This coming Wednesday and Thursday the House will be considering the following bills:

CONSENT CALENDAR

The Finance committee made the recommendation of ‘Inexpedient To Legislate‘ on HB 1114: which establishes a minimum state expenditure for school building aid of $50,000,000 per fiscal year. AFT-NH asks that this be taken off the consent calendar and the recommendation be overturned and a recommendation of ‘Ought To Pass’  be presented. AFT-NH supports this bill for it puts a floor to building aid not a cap. For the past six years many districts have not been able to afford upgrades, repairs or build new buildings because of the cost. Keep in mind 50% of our school buildings are over 60 years old and many need infrastructure upgrades necessary for a 21st century learning environment.

REGULAR CALENDAR PART II

AFT-NH supports the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee’s recommendation of ‘Ought to Pass as amended’ on HB 1565-FN, establishing the crime of filing false lien or encumbrance against a public servant. As public employees just wanting to do our jobs we should not have to worry that someone unhappy with us could go the county’s Register of Deeds and file a million dollar false claim against your property. Unless you go to the Register of Deeds in your county and fill out paperwork to be notified of such actions, you would never know this lien existed until you wanted to sell your home. It could take up to a year to clear this up and could be very costly.

AFT-NH supports the Executive Departments and Administration Committee’s recommendation of ‘Inexpedient To Legislate’  on HB 1101-FN, relative to the recovery of overpayments by the retirement system and establishing a committee to study the policies and procedures of the retirement system for benefits wrongfully paid. This bill is unnecessary for there is already a process in place for recouping overpayments, and this puts the entire onus on the employee, penalizing them when the error is more likely to be made on the other end.

AFT-NH is in support of the Executive Departments and Administration Committee’s recommendation of ‘Inexpedient To Legislate’  on HB 1493-FN-L, relative to members of the retirement system working after retirement, and relative to membership of political subdivision officials appointed for fixed terms. AFT-NH knows that this bill gives unprecedented authority to the executive director of the NHRS to apply punishments at his/her discretion to the employee, when part-time work reporting is both an employer and employee responsibility. To put all the onus on the employee is wrong.

AFT-NH would have like the Finance committee to recommend ‘Inexpedient To Legislate’  and not ‘Referred Interim Study’ on HB 435-FN, relative to funding for chartered public school pupils. Keep in mind that Charter Schools:

  • Do not accept all children that walk through their doors,
  • They entire teaching staff are not certified,
  • They do not take on all the responsibility of educating special education students but they  rely on the child’s local school system to offer services,
  • They do not take on the responsibility of transporting the students to school.
  • They do not have to follow all the laws and rules that current public schools follow.

Also remembers when a charter school opens, your local tax dollars, taken from your local school district budget, must pay for services for special education students attending the charter school.  If a charter school opens in your community your tax dollars are going to transport any student that lives in your community attending the charter school.  All of this is mandated by State law, and in a time when budgets are tight charter schools seem to be coming back and asking for more and more. And you have no say in the matter unless our local elected state leaders stand up and say “No more!”

AFT-NH is in support of the Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee’s recommendation of ‘Inexpedient To Legislate’  on HB 1228, establishing a commission to investigate the procedure for public employee collective bargaining. There have been many committees/commissions that have studied this issue and too often, it only seems to open the door for destructive legislation.  Rather than risk opening a Pandora’s Box with a study commission, let’s prepare specific legislation to remedy some of the problems already identified in previous study committees.

If you have any questions or concerns please email me at lhainey@aft-nh.org.

Thank you!
In Solidarity,
Laura Hainey

Please visit www.aft-nh.org and AFT-NH Facebook page and clicked “Like Us”?
Late breaking news appears on our web site and on Facebook!

UPCOMING COMMITTEE HEARING FOR THE WEEK OF MARCH 17, 2014

TUESDAY, MARCH 18

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND PUBLIC SAFETY, Room 204, LOB
10:00 a.m. Continued public hearing on
HB 1122-FN, (New Title) relative to the filing with a registry of deeds of a fraudulent document purporting to create a lien or claim against real property, –this is the same as HB 1565 which AFT-NH supports

RULES, Room 303, LOB
2:30 p.m. Regular meeting

WAYS AND MEANS, Room 202, LOB
10:30 a.m. Executive session on
HB 1415-FN, establishing a robotics education fund in the department of education,

HEALTH, EDUCATION AND HUMAN SERVICES, Room 103, LOB
9:30 a.m. Executive Session May Follow

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19

10:00 a.m. House in session

PUBLIC AND MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS, Room 102, LOB
10:30 a.m. HB 297, relative to the management of trust funds and capital reserve funds and pertaining to library trustees.

THURSDAY, MARCH 20

10:00 a.m. House in session

Congresswoman Annie Kuster Co-Sponsors ‘Government By the People Act’

Congresswoman Annie Kuster (D-NH), along with 100 original co-sponsors, introduced legislation that would greatly reduce the influence of big money on Capitol Hill and raise the voices of everyday Americans in the political process.

The Government By the People Act (H.R. 20) would allow candidates to run for office by relying on a large number of small donations from people back home—instead of big donations from lobbyists or Wall Street bankers.

Here’s how it would work:

  • Empower Everyday Americans to Participate

The bill would provide Americans with a $25 refundable My Voice tax credit to help spur small-dollar contributions to candidates for Congressional office.

  • Amplify the Voice of Everyday Americans

Establish a Freedom from Influence Fund to multiply the impact of small-dollar donations ($150 or less). Donations of $1 to $150 to participating candidates would be matched on a six-to-one basis. For those candidates who agree to take only small-dollar donations, the $50 contribution can become a $500 contribution – matched at a rate of 9 to $1.

  • Fight Back Against Special Interests

It will allow candidates to run competitive campaigns for office even with the threat of super PACs or dark money groups. Participating candidates, who are able to raise at least $50,000 in additional small-dollar donations within the 60-day “home stretch” of the general election, would be eligible for additional resources to break this monopoly.

For the people quoteFrom creating jobs to the budget to issues concerning the environment and health care, big money warps Congress’ priorities and erodes public trust. Too often, special interests and wealthy donors are calling the shots, and the American people are fed up.

The Government By the People Act strikes at the heart of our big money problem, empowers ordinary voters by matching their small donations, and would hold members of Congress accountable to the people that elected them, not the wealthy donors who currently fund their campaigns. It’s time we return to government of, by, and for the people, not government bought and paid for by big money campaign donors.

Learn more about the Government By the People Act and find out how you can get involved in the campaign to pass the legislation at www.ofby.us.

Rep Annie Kuster Calls For Unemployment Extension Immediately

Kuster: More than 1000 Granite Staters Lost unemployment insurance benefits at the end of 2013 – House must pass bipartisan extension immediately

During a speech on the House floor, Kuster highlights the story of a Colebrook constituent who lost her teaching position after 29 years on the job and relies on emergency UI benefits to make ends meet while she looks for work

In total, more than 1,000 Granite Staters lost UI benefits at the end of 2013; without Congressional action, an additional 150 Granite Staters will lose their benefits every week during the first half of 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) this week continued to urge her colleagues to support legislation extending emergency unemployment insurance benefits that expired at the end of 2013. During a speech on the House floor, Kuster highlighted the story of a constituent from Colebrook who lost her teaching position last fall after 29 years on the job, and who depends on unemployment insurance benefits to get by as she applies for jobs. More than 1.3 million Americans – including more than 1,000 Granite Staters – have already been cut off from their emergency unemployment insurance benefits, and more will lose their benefits every week that Congress fails to act.

“[The EUC program] compensation provides a critical lifeline to Granite Staters and other Americans who are still struggling to find work. This includes Lois, a teacher who wrote to me from Colebrook, New Hampshire,” Kuster said. “At the end of the last school year, Lois lost her job after teaching for 29 years because of falling enrollment in her rural school district. Over the last few months, she has applied to over 100 jobs without any luck.”

“Her savings have been exhausted, unemployment benefits are now her only source of income, and she is worried about whether she can keep her home,” Kuster continued. “We must give people like Lois – hardworking Americans who have suffered a tough break – the opportunity to get back on their feet.”

For months, Kuster has been outspoken about the need to extend unemployment insurance benefits for Granite Staters still struggling to find work. She first called on Congress to pass legislation to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation in November, and personally called on Speaker Boehner to bring that legislation to a vote before Congress adjourned at the end of last year. Kuster is also a cosponsor of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, legislation to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed through 2014.

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