July 14 - A Look At Some Worthy Legislation

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News July 14, 2013

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

A Look At Some Worthy Legislation

New Hampshireʼs House of Representatives and Senate passed some important and interesting bills during the 2014 Regular Session, but both also rejected some worthy legislation as well.

Three of these worthy but rejected pieces of legislation I have already written about in previous columns. They include Senate Bill 366, which would have authorized the establishment of up to two gambling casinos in New Hampshire. As I wrote in my May 5 column, the bill was defeated by the House on April 30 by a one-vote margin, a 173-172 roll call vote. I did vote for Senate Bill 366ʼs passage and was disappointed that it was turned down by just a one-vote margin. I was disappointed because if the measure had been adopted by the House and become law, a number of positive consequences would have occurred. More jobs would have been created, and state government would have garnered more money for the operating budget. But more importantly, the Municipal Revenue Sharing Program, which had given funds to municipalities, but was cut from the operating budget in 2009, would have been restored. Restoration of Revenue Sharing would have meant an extra $470,626 in funds to Claremont that the city could have used to reduce property taxes.

House Bill 1403 was the second worthy piece of legislation that ultimately did not become law. As described in my March 17 column, the bill had several provisions. First, it would have reinstated New Hampshireʼs State Minimum Wage abolished by the previous state legislature in 2011. Second, it would have established the state minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, the same current rate as the federal minimum wage. Third, it would have raised the wage by $1.75 per hour in two steps to a total new rate of $9.00 per hour by Jan. 1, 2016. Fourth, and finally, it would have tied future minimum wage increases to the national CPI (Consumer Price Index) so as to keep up with inflation starting on Sept. 1, 2016.

As mentioned on March 17, the House did approve House Bill 1403 on March 12 by a 173-118 roll call vote. Unfortunately, the New Hampshire Senate on May 8 rejected this needed minimum wage legislation by a 13-11 roll call vote, legislation which would have helped approximately 76,000 New Hampshire workers, including many of my employed Claremont constituents. These workers, 67 percent of whom are adults over age 20, are trying to support themselves and their families.

Furthermore, as I had written on March 17, the phased-in minimum wage would have a positive stimulus for New Hampshireʼs and Claremontʼs economy. This increase would have resulted in minimum wage workers having more money to spend on such goods and services as food, clothing, shelter, gas, haircuts, and auto repairs. Consequently, most businesses would make more money from the increased spending by these workers, more money which might enable some of them to expand their businesses and actually hire more employees.

Yet other worthy legislation which was eventually rejected by the House after being earlier given preliminary approval was House Bill 1105. This bill would have eliminated the requirement that State Catastrophic Special Education Aid be divided among qualifying local school districts based on the available funding in the state operating budget. Instead, the bill would have mandated the New Hampshire Department of Education to provide Catastrophic Aid to all districts where special education costs exceed three-and-one-half times the estimated state average expenditure per pupil for the preceding school year. The billʼs prime sponsor was Haverhill Rep. Rick Ladd.

As I had written in my Feb. 17 column, House Bill 1105 received preliminary approval on a voice vote by the full House on Feb. 12 after the House Education Committee had unanimously recommended passage. But on March 26, the majority of the same body by a 238-70 roll call vote reversed course, and turned down the bill after the House Finance Committee had unanimously recommended rejection. The Finance Committee had recommended rejection because it stated that the bill as written, would have created “between an $8-9 million deficit” in the Education Departmentʼs operating budget for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015.  

Despite Financeʼs unanimous rejection recommendation, Lempster Rep. James Grenier spoke on the House floor in support of House Bill 1105. Rep. Grenier, who was also one of the billʼs co-sponsors, stated that the legislation was needed to help small, rural, and low-income school districts like Lempster pay for special education costs which can sometimes drastically increase, if even just one additional special needs student is enrolled or moves into a district. Such costs can suddenly force districts to rearrange line items within a previously approved budgets and sometimes cause disruptions with other staff and programs which benefit other students. These costs are now of- ten not fully reimbursed by either the federal or state governments and which usually result in higher school property taxes for communities like Lempster.

For readersʼ information, I joined Rep. Grenier and the 68 other representatives in voting for House Bill 1105 on March 26, as I had earlier voted for the bill on Feb. 12. I voted “yes,” because I believe that while special education is a vital program for many special needs students, it has often put a huge financial burden on school districts like Claremont, a burden which is one of the reasons why Claremont has one of the highest property tax rates in New Hampshire. Also, I believe that the federal government should provide more funding for special education, which it has mandated since 1982. But if the feds will not provide more funding, than the state needs to provide more money.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net

Editorʼs Note: As in the past, Rep. Cloutier is taking a hiatus from his column during the remainder of the summer.