March 3, 2017
This past week the House was once again, not in session, while House committees finished work on a tidal wave of bills, which will hit the House floor for votes beginning Wednesday, March 8. Still, even without the House in full session, there were some interesting developments, including some good news! March 9th is the last day for the House to act on house bills not referred to a second committee. March 16th is the last day to act on all bills going to a second committee except budget bills. In addition, the last day for budget bills to be acted upon is April 6th.
HB 438: banning public sector voluntary payroll deduction of union dues: This bill, a companion piece to so-called ‘right to work,’ was sponsored by nearly the entire Republican leadership team, headed by Majority Leader Dick Hinch. The defeat of so-called ‘right to work’ in the House some two weeks ago, however, signaled the death knell for this unwanted piece of legislation as well. On Wednesday morning, before a hearing room crowded with working people opposed to HB 438, Labor Committee Chair Steve Schmidt proposed to cut the hearing short and in turn, would take immediate steps to ensure “death with dignity” for HB 438 by having the committee ‘retain’ the bill. Democrats agreed to this approach but only after asking the Chairman to repeat his promise to ensure the bill is not resurrected. With such assurances, the Labor Committee voted 20-0 to retain the bill.
What does this mean? HB 438 will stay with the Labor Committee for 2017, and at the end of the year, the Committee will vote to recommend the bill be sent to “interim study.” That motion will then go to the House and presumably be accepted, meaning the bill will remain under study until the end of 2018, when the legislative session ends and the Committee recommends “no further legislative action.” Yes, a quiet way to kill a bill, a bill for which not a single one of its sponsors had the temerity to appear before the Labor Committee to present at the start of Wednesday’s hearing. So, while it is sounds complicated, even Republican leadership has now decided to consign HB 438 to the same graveyard as the 30+ versions of so-called ‘right to work’ defeated in NH since the 1970s.
Education: The most controversial educational issue currently in front of the NH Legislature is that of vouchers. As previously noted, SB 193 would establish a full-blown voucher system in NH, taking taxpayer money and placing it in individual accounts for parents to expend at any charter, private or religious school. Good news for parents who already voluntarily choose to educate their children in that manner, bad news for the taxpayers who will face higher property tax bills to maintain public school facilities, programs and support systems. Put simply, money going to vouchers is taxpayer money funneled away from public schools and into the private sector, creating subsidies for a small portion of the population and imposing greater burdens on the majority. Not good policy, but both SB 193 and a smaller House version, HB 647, have passed their first test in their respective chamber and are now under consideration in the Finance Committees. So, there will be further action and the need for our membership and allies to take action once we determine next steps as these bills work their way through the respective finance committees.
HB 210 which is the bill regarding establishing a code of ethics for educational personnel is slated for a vote by the House on March 9th. This bill has been recommended Ought to Pass with Amendment. This bill requires the NH Board of Education to promulgate rules on or before July 1, 2018. The bill as amended requires the rules shall address “shall address four key certified educator responsibilities that include responsibility to: (1) the students, (2) the educator profession and professional colleagues, (3) the school community, and (4) the use of technology as it relates to students, professional colleagues and the school community.” Adam Marcoux, Nashua Teachers’ Union President and I have been serving on the Department of Education Advisory Committee on this issue and we have argued that such matters need to remain in the control of the local school districts. We have advocated vigorously for the voices of teachers to be heard on this matter and to avoid unnecessary top down regulation. We will remain vigilant throughout this process.
Voting Rights: Two bills, SB 3 and HB 372, would restrict or narrow the definition of ‘domicile’ in relation to the right to vote or to register to vote. These bills are aimed at the fictional hordes of campaign workers who supposedly flood into NH to vote in November, or the fictional busloads of Massachusetts residents who President Trump believes voted illegally in NH. The real intent of the proposed legislation is to make it more difficult to vote, particularly for those who have only recently moved to a town or who lack a long-established permanent domicile. HB372 will be coming to the House floor within the next week or two, while SB3 is still in committee. Both bills will need to be monitored closely and will likely be subject to grassroots action against passage. Remember, democracy can only flourish when voting rights are kept sacrosanct, and when there is no evidence of voter fraud, one can only wonder at the motives of those who seek to limit and restrict those who can vote. Without the right to vote, the voice of the people cannot be heard, and if it cannot be heard, then the rights and lives of working people and working families will only suffer.
Our work continues in protecting our NH Retirement System and promoting HB 413 which would bring much needed retirement dollars from the state back to our local communities. Much like the issue of funding for full-day kindergarten, these measures are now being reviewed through the House Finance Committee.
And, please mark Tuesday, March 14th on your calendar—it is Town Election Day. You can make a real difference in your community. We have important AFT-NH local contracts being presented to voters in the following school districts: Farmington, Hillsboro-Deering, Newfound, Raymond and Timberlane. Also, in Raymond, there are two questions on the school ballot addressing outsourcing of school cafeteria jobs to a for profit company. 100% of these café employees live in Raymond! We are asking voters to vote No on Article 9 and Yes on Article 10.
We also need to make sure responsible budgets are approved to fund our schools and provide essential public services. If for some reason you will be unavailable to vote on March 14, please make sure to go to your town hall and vote by absentee ballot. Your support is greatly appreciated.
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Thank you for staying engaged and speaking out on these very important issues.