Feb 21 - NH State House Watch #8

NH State House Watch, the American Friends Service Committee

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Judy Stadtman of the NH AFL-CIO

AFSC-NH State House Watch, February 21
2014 Issue 8

Time for a short vacation

Both the House and the Senate will be on a break next week, so there will be no committee work or session days. But there's plenty of news to share from last week, regarding Medicaid expansion, the minimum wage, the death penalty and much more, so keep reading. 

The House will be back in session on Wednesday, March 5 at 10:00 AM and again on Thursday March 6 at 1:00 PM.  The Senate will likely have a session day on March 6, but this has yet to be confirmed.

Important dates in March:

March 6 – Reports must be filed on all House bills that have been heard in just one committee. 
March 20 – Reports are due on all remaining House bills (those that were heard in more than one committee).
March 27 – House and Senate must complete action on all bills that originated in their chamber.  Bills approved by each body cross over to the other body.  For that reason, this day is called “Crossover.” 

Update on Medicaid Expansion

Once again there is hope that New Hampshire will move forward with expanded Medicaid.   

The Senate has been working on a bill, SB 413, to expand Medicaid by using federal Medicaid money to buy private insurance. The proposal requires that the state would apply to the federal government for a waiver at the end of March, and in May some 38,000 eligible people would begin enrolling for coverage from the state’s Medicaid managed care program. Another 12,000 people would be covered by a state program that subsidizes employer-based coverage. The expansion program would end if federal funding dropped below 100%. The entire program would also be discontinued in 2016 if the legislature failed to reauthorize it.  At a hearing this past week, a number of business owners spoke in favor of the bill. They feel that expanding Medicaid will ease the burden of uncompensated care costs that are passed on to them in the form of increased insurance costs for their employees. 

The Senate Health, Human Services and Education Committee recommended passage of the bill on a vote of 4-1. The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote when they come back in March.  This Concord Monitor story gives a good summary of the political maneuvering behind the vote: “Republican Senators Support NH Medicaid Expansion Plan.” 

Update on Minimum Wage

HB 1403, the bill to increase the minimum wage in two steps to $9 an hour and then index it to the cost of living, came out of the House Labor Committee on February 19 with a recommendation of OTP, on a vote of 10-8.  It is expected to go before the full House on March 12.

In national news on the minimum wage, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report earlier this week which finds that the President’s proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour could result in the loss of 500,000 jobs.  Jeff McLynch at theNH Fiscal Policy Institute clarifies that “the CBO did not conduct its own research on the potential employment impact but instead relied on a variety of past independent economic analyses which found a negative employment effect.  Importantly, there is a growing consensus…that past minimum wage increases had little to no impact on employment."   

It is worth noting that the CBO report also found that the increased wage would move about 900,000 people above the poverty threshold.  

In addition, the National Employment Law Project’s Christine Owens had the following to say:  

“Today’s Congressional Budget Office report is an outlier that flies in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence. The effect of raising the minimum wage is one of the most thoroughly studied topics in modern economics, and the vast majority of the more than 1,000 estimates contained in studies dating back to 1972 show no significant adverse effects on employment. In fact, more than 600 economists, including 7 Nobel laureates, have signed a letter in support of raising the federal minimum wage, arguing that it will actually improve our economy and create jobs.
“Americans have been some of the most productive workers on Earth over the past 50 years, yet in real terms minimum wage workers earned more during Beatlemania than they do today.  It’s long past time to give workers a raise.  As President Obama and more than 70% of Americans, including many small business owners, agree, Congress must pass legislation to raise the minimum wage now.”

Death Penalty Repeal

HB 1170, the bill repealing the death penalty, is now likely to go to the House floor for a vote on March 12. That gives you three more weeks to contact your State Representatives to urge them to support the committee report.  

The NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty will organize a Day of Action on the day of the vote starting at 8:30 AM. Click here to sign up.

Last week on the House floor

HB 1188, the paycheck equity bill passed on a roll call vote of 183-125. This bill limits employer policies that restrict workers from voluntarily sharing information about their wages, thereby promoting equal pay. 

HB 1404 provides new protections for workers who opt for compensation via electronic payroll cards. It passed on a roll call vote of 201-104. 

HB 1405 prohibits employers from using credit history in employment decisions. In committee the majority found that the routine use of credit history as a pre-employment screening tool creates a barrier for qualified workers who have experienced financial hardship during the recession. The bill passed on a roll call vote of 184-119.

HB 1407 protects employee privacy by prohibiting employers from requesting passwords to a worker’s social media accounts as a condition of employment. The bill passed on a voice vote. 

HB 1312, the bill to establish a committee to study offshore wind power development passed on a voice vote. 

HB 1288, the bill requiring bottled water labels to indicate the source of the water was voted ITL on a division vote of 228-20.

HB 1506, the bill to limit the use of student ID cards to satisfy voter identification requirements was voted ITL in a division vote of 295-65. 

HB 1237, a bill that prohibits residency restrictions for registered sex offenders and offenders against children also cleared the House. These types of restrictions have been found to be unconstitutional. It passed on a roll call vote of 231-97. 

Last week in House Committees

Education Committee

HB 1321, relative to reporting of Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Scores (ASVAB). Every year thousands of NH high school students under the age of 18 take the ASVAB tests, usually in their junior year. The tests, which are administered by military recruiters, are used to peddle military service as a career option for students.  Typically, recruiters get access to test scores without knowledge or permission from parents.  HB 1321 would mandate that parental permission be obtained before ASVAB test scores can be turned over to recruiters. The committee voted unanimously (18-0) to support a  recommendation of OTP. 

Science, Technology and Energy Committee 

HB 1376, a bill to require the Department of Environmental Services to examine the potential harm to the public and the environment resulting from the transportation of tar sand oil through the Montreal Portland pipeline. The pipeline would run through Coos County. A DES representative explained that the Department has limited expertise and no regulatory authority with respect to pipelines; if the bill were passed they would have to sacrifice staff time and budget intended for other responsibilities. The full committee heard testimony, and then appointed a subcommittee to revise the bill, and is expected to replace DES with a special legislative committee to carry out the examination of potential harms. 

Criminal Justice and Public Safety

HB 1264, a bill that would permit non-residents from states that don’t require licenses to carry loaded pistols or revolvers to carry their loaded weapons in NH. In a surprise twist, an amendment was approved to turn the bill into a study commission on gun safety, by a vote of 12-6.  The study commission would have 10 members: one Senator, 3 House members, a representative from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a member of the NH Association of Police Chiefs, a member of Gun Owners of NH, and a representative from the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Governor Hassan would appoint an owner of a gun store, and a member of a gun violence prevention group.  The commission would look at gun violence, improving the background check system, study laws on access to guns by the mentally ill and the strength of existing penalties for illegal gun use. They would also be looking into laws governing non-residents carrying guns in NH, the original topic of the bill.  You can read more about this in an article from the Concord Monitor, “NH House Democrats Push for Gun Safety Study Committee.”

Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services

HB 1189, relative to temporary workers rights.  Maggie joined the NH AFL-CIO to offer testimony in support of this bill, which would strengthen protections for employees of temporary staffing agencies. The hearing room was filled, however, with opponents of the bill, mostly staffing agency executives who spoke against the need for additional regulation.

Coming up in House Committees
(Remember, not next week, but the week of March 3.)

Tuesday, March 4 

Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services, Room 307, LOB

10:15 AM Executive session on: 
HB 1189, relative to temporary workers rights. 

HB 1228, establishing a commission to investigate the procedure for public employee collective bargaining. 

HB 1349, relative to the definition of independent contractor. 

Science, Technology and Energy, Room 304, LOB

10:00 AM Executive session on HB 1376, the tar sands bill. 

Ways and Means, Room 202, LOB

10:00 AM Executive session on:

HB 1626, establishing up to 6 gambling establishments in the state and a gaming oversight authority and continually appropriating a special fund.

HB 1627, a bill to establish one casino. Clarifies where the revenue from the casino would go. 

HB 1628, relative to video lottery and table gaming (another bill for establishing 6 casinos). 

HB 1633, a bill that establishes one casino and defines how it would be regulated. 

Last Week in the Senate 

In addition to the hearing on Medicaid Expansion, here’s what else happened:

SB 411, relative to the labeling of genetically engineered foods was referred to interim study, on a voice vote. Interim study in the second year of the session means that the bill is going off to die a quiet, polite death. 

SB 319, relative to reproductive health care facilities, would establish a 25-foot buffer zone between patients entering a reproductive health care facility and the so-called sidewalk counselors and protestors. The bill passed on a roll call vote of 15-9. 

Coming up in the Senate….?
The Senate calendar has not been posted yet, so when we know what’s coming up, we’ll let you know!

State House Watch Radio

Children and family issues will be the theme of our show Monday, with MaryLou Beaver from Every Child Matters as guest co-host and interviews with Representative Mary Beth Walz, Chair of the Children and Family Law Committee and Keith Kuenning of Child and Family Services. You can listen live from 5 to 6 pm on WNHN, 94.7 FM in Concord, or over the internet. The show re-broadcasts Tuesday from 7 to 8 am. You can download a podcast of any of our earlier shows.


Sunday, February 23 - “Dead Man Walking,” a film starring Susan Sarandon as anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, at the Portsmouth Public Library, Levenson Community Room at 1:30 PM.  Sponsored by Portsmouth NAACP, AFSC, and others.  The event is free and open to the public.  Discussion on the campaign to abolish the death penalty in NH will follow the film.  For more information, please call 603-230-2335 or visit nodeathpenaltynh.org.

Saturday, March 1 - Take Action to Support the Manchester Newspaper Guild.  The Union Leader is asking Manchester Newspaper Guild members to approve a new contract that calls for an 18% retroactive pay cut, meaning that means MNG workers would be forced to pay back money to the newspaper they were paid months ago. Join an informational picket at 12 noon outside the Capital Center for the Arts in Concord (where the Union Leader is sponsoring the 2014 NH Spelling Bee competition). 

Sunday, March 2
 - "Two Who Dared: The Sharps' War," a documentary film about Waitsill and Martha Sharp, Unitarian ministers who helped Jews escape from Nazi-occupied Europe, will be shown at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Manchester at 7 pm. Admission is free, with donations requested to help defray expenses. Please bring a non-perishable food item for local food pantries. The church is handicap accessible.  For more information, contact Ken Close at 603-625-6854.

Monday, March 3
 - Film screening of “Shadows of Liberty” at Red River Theatre, Concord at 7 pm. This award winning film reveals censorship, cover-ups and corporate control of the media. Following the film there will be a conversation with the filmmaker, Jean-Philippe Tremblay. Admission is $10 and tickets can be purchased online or at the door.  Check out the trailer. 

Saturday, March  29 – SoupFest!  Mark your calendars for this annual celebration and fundraiser for the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness and the Concord Homeless Resource Center.  Two seatings, at 5 pm and 6:30 pm, at South Congregational Church, 27 Pleasant Street, Concord.   
-Arnie Alpert and Maggie Fogarty

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AFSC’s New Hampshire State House Watch newsletter is published to bring you information about matters being discussed in Concord including housing, the death penalty, immigration, and labor rights.  We also follow the state budget and tax system, voting rights, corrections policy, and more. 

The AFSC is a Quaker organization supported by people of many faiths who care about peace, social justice, humanitarian service, and nonviolent change.  Arnie Alpert and Maggie Fogarty staff the New Hampshire Program, publish the newsletter, and co-host the “State House Watch” radio show on WNHN-FM.  Susan Bruce helps with research.  Fred Portnoy produces the radio show.    

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