March 20 - Issue #10

NH State House Watch, the American Friends Service Committee

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State House Watch March 20
2015 Issue 10

As we reported last week, State House watchers are paying close attention to the House Finance Committee, which has the responsibility to propose the next version of the state budget for the two-year period beginning July 1. They will finish their work by Tuesday, March 24 and will provide a briefing to House members from 10 am to noon on Monday, March 30.  Debate by the full House will begin at 10 am on Wednesday, April 1 and probably continue the following day.

AFSC, NH Voices of Faith, and other groups that care about public services, a fair system of generating revenue, and what we can call "the general welfare" are planning acts of witness and protest for that day.  Together we will insist that members of the NH House and Senate pass a responsible budget that that doesn't sacrifice essential programs New Hampshire communities depend on for our health, safety, and quality of life.  See below for details.    

The House and Senate also continue to act on proposed bills.  "Crossover Day" is April 2, which means both chambers intend to finish work on their own bills by then.  Those that pass will "cross over" to the other side for consideration in committee and action by the full House or Senate by June 4.  The final three weeks of the session will be devoted to committees of conference aiming to resolve differences between Senate and House versions of the same bill.  

The Budget - Devastating Cuts to Essential Services Looming

The House Finance Committee conducts its detailed work in three groups, called "divisions," which each take responsibility for different
segments of the budget.  Then they put the three sections together.  Last week the Finance Committee’s majority in each division continued to slash their way through Governor Maggie Hassan’s proposed budget, a process which will have devastating implications for state services if their recommendations make it all the way to the end of the session.  

For example, budget writers propose to cut funds for homeless shelters by 50%, i.e. a $4 million a year reduction in spending for the state’s most vulnerable people.  

The Finance Committee also appears ready to adopt devastating cuts to funding nursing homes and elderly services. That includes senior meals, meals on wheels, transportation, and caregivers. Cuts to community health centers and addiction services come at a time when heroin is ravaging NH communities. Services for the developmentally disabled and traumatically brain injured are on the chopping block. Even the NH Veteran’s Home, which cares for elderly or disabled veterans, is slated for a $2 million dollar budget cut.  And that's just the beginning. 

All in all, the cuts amount to over $200 million from the general and education fund. (Click herefor more from NHFPI.)

Moreover, Chairman Neal Kurk has made it abundantly clear that he will not go along with plans to continue the NH Health Protection Program, also known as expanded Medicaid. Thanks to the NHHPP, more than 37,000 low income families have access to health care. Emergency room visits at hospitals have decreased by 17% in just six months. The program is set to "sunset" (i.e. disappear over the horizon) in 2016, and if the Finance Committee has its way, it will not be extended. This means a loss to the state of $240 million in federal funds and the loss of health care for thousands of people.

That puts a spotlight on another under-discussed budget matter:  for many programs the State gets matching funds from the federal government based on the levels of state spending.  That’s why the NH Fiscal Policy Institute says of the proposed cuts, “In addition to the impact these changes would have on the well-being of the sick, the elderly, and the homeless in New Hampshire, many would also trigger the loss of significant amounts of federal funds.”  

Privatization of Youth Services?

The budget comes in in two pieces:  HB 1, which contains line-by-line figures for the authorized spending of every state department, and HB 2, which contains details of budget-related changes specified by the legislators.  One of those details is that along with plans to cut funds for the Sununu Youth Services Center by $3.5 million a year, the current HB 2 proposal includes an “option to privatize if necessary.”  It was just such a provision four years ago that set the State on an expensive and unnecessary two-year process to consider and ultimately reject privatization of the state’s adult prisons.  We hope we don’t have to go around that block again.  We also hope you are suitably alarmed.  

We should be clear that when we talk about the Finance Committee's decisions we are talking about the results of a majority rule process.  There is a vocal minority of the committee which has been resisting the devastating cuts every step of the way, for which we thank them.  (One of them, Representative Cindy Rosenwald, will be on our radio show next week.)

Meanwhile, the Senate passed SB 1, reducing the rate of the business profits tax, and SB 2, reducing the rate of the business enterprise tax. After passing both, Senator Bradley's motion to table both bills was adopted.  Tabling notwithstanding, "the tax reductions will be included in the Senate’s version of the next operating budget," reports Garry Rayno at the NH Union Leader.  The cuts will reduce state revenue by at least $130 million.

In short, the House Finance Committee says we don’t have enough revenue to support the Governor’s budget, and at the same time the Senate is cutting revenue sources to make sure we don’t.

NH Voices of Faith has maintained a steady presence at the State House and last week had members outside the Finance Committee every day it met.  Without getting into the line-by-line analysis, we are urging our legislators to be more humane in their approach to creating a budget, which ultimately is a reflection of the state's values.

The Red-Tailed Hawk and a Civics Lesson for 4th Graders

State House Watch has followed the progress of HB 373, a bill to make the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor of NH. It was a project that began in a 4th grade class from Hampton Falls. Last week we reported that it had been ITL’d by the House. Unfortunately, this has now become a national story, one that reflects rather badly on the NH House. Some of the legislators who spoke against the bill made comments that were inappropriate, especially given that the 4th grade class, parents, and teachers were sitting in the gallery.  We hope that this will serve as a cautionary tale to our legislators, provoking an outbreak of civility. See the Seacoast Online editorial here.

OTP – Ought to Pass
ITL – Inexpedient to Legislate (i.e. should be defeated)
OTP/A – Ought to Pass with Amendment
LOB - Legislative Office Building
SH - State House

Last Week in the Senate 

SB 255, establishing a low wage service worker task force, passed on a voice vote. If approved by the House as well, the task force will study the impact of low-wage jobs on children, families, and communities, the cost of state services used by low-wage workers, and the effects of low-wage jobs on the local economy. 

SB 265, the bill establishing the ABLE savings account, passed on a vote of 24-0.  

The House did not hold a session last week.

Next Week in the House

The next House session will be March 25, and if necessary March 26, supposedly "to deal with all non-budget bills," according to the House Calendar. The main item will be HB 357, relative to notice of change of name or address on a driver’s license and on the registration of a vehicle. Sounds benign, right?  This is where you have to pay a bit of attention:  

The House Finance Committee, under the leadership of Representative Neal Kurk, won't budget any expenses it believes can't be covered by expected revenue.  So they are about to propose an $88 million cut in the Department of Transportation (DOT) budget, which everyone seems to agree would lead to drastic cuts in the State's ability to plow snow, pave roads, and keep the bridges from falling down.  The DOT says a cut that deep would require layoff of 700 workers. Governor Maggie Hassan has asked for an increase in auto registration fees, which would help fund the DOT, but that proposal is currently going nowhere.  Normally tax-averse legislators, such as Rep. Kurk, say they are willing to back a floor amendment raising the gas tax, even though that proposal was never put into a bill or considered at a public hearing.  If the House passes a gas tax increase, the Finance Committee might then go along with a budget without the deep DOT cuts.  Meanwhile, Senate President Chuck Morse has made it clear he opposes another hike in the gas tax.  We are not going to make any predictions but can't help observing that roads and bridges appear to be more popular than children who need education and working adults who need health care. 

Coming Up in House Committees

House committees have begun work on bills that passed the Senate.  Here is a list of some of the ones already scheduled for public hearings.    

Tuesday, March 24

Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Room 302, LOB
2:00 PM  SB 52, establishing a commission to study the issue of residential tenancies in foreclosed properties.

Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Rooms 206-208, LOB

10:00 AM SB 116, repealing the license requirement for carrying a concealed weapon or revolver. NH has required a permit since 1925. The House voted to retain a similar bill, HB 582, for further study. The NH Association of Police Chiefs opposes this legislation. 

Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services, Room 307, LOB

10:15 AM  SB 264, relative to tipped employees. This billadds “ballroom” employees as tipped employees, in order to enable employers to pay them the substandard tipped wage of $2.13. 

11:30 AM  SB 47, repealing the payment of subminimum wages to persons with disabilities. 

Next Week in the Senate

The Senate will be in Session on Thursday, March 26.

Consent Calendar

SCR 1 is a resolution recognizing the contribution of Bhutanese refugees to New Hampshire, and requesting the United States government to work diligently on resolving the Bhutanese refugee crisis, reaching an agreement to allow the option of repatriation, and promoting human rights and democracy in Bhutan. This resolution comes out of committee with a unanimous vote of OTP. We thank Senator Soucy for sponsoring this legislation and commend Suraj Budathoki and members of the Bhutanese community for bringing this forward.  

SB 48, relative to the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs. This bill revises the membership and extends the life of the commission until July 1, 2020. Committee voted OTP on a vote of 5-0. 

Regular Calendar

SB 135, relative to lead poisoning in children. This bill to strengthen measures to prevent lead poisoning was weakened in committee but still is worthy of support.  It comes out of committee with a recommendation of OTP on a vote of 6-0.

SB 169, relative to permissible uses of electronic benefit (EBT) cards. Committee vote 3-2 OTP. This bill would prohibit the use of EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards or cash obtained from EBT cards to be used to gamble, purchase alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, lottery tickets, firearms, or adult entertainment. Also included are branding, piercing, or tattooing. We have actively opposed this bill, but it is likely to pass and cross over to the House, which has approved its own bill on the same topic.

SB 4, relative to domicile for voting purposes.  This bill creates new barriers to voting by disqualifying temporary residents of the state from being able to vote, even if their temporary status would last for years.  Committee recommends OTP on a vote of 3-2.  

SB 179, relative to eligibility to vote. The amended version of this bill provides new definitions of domicile and qualified voter.  It contains the same provisions as SB 4 but also requires that a voter be a resident of the state and county for at least 30 days before being allowed to register. The amendment also makes changes to the voter registration form which tie voting to automobile registrations. Recommended OTP/A on a vote of 3-2. It is another attempt to limit voter participation. We think our legislators should be working to make it easier to vote, not to make it more difficult. For more information, listen to the podcast of our interview with Joan Flood Ashwell of the NH League of Women Voters on last week's "State House Watch" radio show.  

SB 136, relative to assessing the consequences of the Citizens United decision. The committee approved this bill that essentially takes no stand on the consequences of Citizens United, but a floor amendment could make an explicit call for a Constitutional amendment and create a study committee that would recommend wording for the amendment.     

Coming up Next Week in Senate Committees

Tuesday, March 24

Rules, Enrolled Bills, and Internal Affairs, Room 100, SH

2:45 PM  HB 407  Establishing a committee to study the classifications of military vehicles and equipment that may be purchased by the state and its political subdivisions. 

Ways and Means, Room 103, SH
9:00 AM HB 147, relative to the homestead exemption amount. This bill increases the amount from $100,000 to $120,000 per person. 

Wednesday, March 25

Energy and Natural Resources, Room 100, SH
9:30 AM Presentation by Kinder Morgan on a potential pipleline project in NH. 
10:30 AM  Presentation by Constitution Pipeline.
11:00 AM  Input from local groups on Kinder Morgan’s Project. 
This a natural gas pipeline project that would route 77 miles of pipeline through 17 southern NH towns. Kinder Morgan is a Houston-based energy company with a spotty safety record, as this story in the Union Leader points out. 

Public and Municipal Affairs, Room 102, LOB

10:00 AM  HB 304, establishing a committee to study public access to political campaign information. The purpose is to determine the merits of having an online system of campaign finance reporting and an online clearinghouse of information for voters that would include voter registration and polling place information and information filed by candidates and political committees. 

Next week on "State House Watch/White House Watch" Radio

Our guests next week will be Representative Cindy Rosenwald, a member of the House Finance Committee, and Neil Levesque, Executive Director of the NH Institute of Politics.  The show airs on Monday from 5 to 6 pm and re-broadcasts on Tuesday from 8 to 9 am.  You can listen live at 94.7 FM in the Concord area and on anywhere you can get an internet signal.  You can also download podcasts of past shows, including last week's with Joan Flood Ashwell of the NH League of Women Voters and Mark MacKenzie of the NH AFL-CIO.   

Governing Under the Influence

Senator Rand Paul is in the state right now, campaigning for President, and he has several public events slated for tomorrow in the southeastern part of the state.  Ohio Governor John Kasich makes his first trip to NH next week.  Others are coming soon.  If you want to meet them for conversations about taking power from the corporations and putting it in the hands of real people, check out the Candidate Calendar on our website.  There you can also read Eric Zulasky's new blog post on "3 Reasons Why We Bird Dog." 

Events Coming Up

Sunday, March 22 - A discussion of the film “Selma,” from 2-4 pm at the Discover Portsmouth Center, 10 Market St., in Portsmouth. Click here for more information.  Note: This is not a showing of the movie, it’s a discussion. 

Friday, March 27, Friday Family Fun Night hosted by New American Africans at the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, 180 Loudon Road, Concord.  Join us for drumming, dance and ice cream. $10 suggested donation. You can find more information here.

POSTPONED: Saturday, March 28, Haymarket People’s Fund book launching of The Courage to Change, the journey towards transformation and anti-racism in philanthropy at Haymarket People’s Fund.

Saturday, March 28, SouperFest fundraiser for the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness.  Join us for an all day celebration with games, music, soup and an opportunity to thank the many people who have supported the Concord Cold Weather Shelter over the past ten years.  You can find more details here.  

Saturday, March 28, "Wake Up, Learn, Reflect, Teach, Act" is an opportunity for New Hampshire People of Color and their Allies to create a movement in the state where we can explore the impact of race on the quality of life for everyone (especially people of color) and transition into actions that will facilitate change.  9 am to 3 pm at the Discover Portsmouth Center.  Registration required. 
Click here to register. Direct questions to Dottie Morris or Yemi Mahoney .

Saturday, March 28, "An Afternoon of Serious Fun," including bird dog training, a showing of "Pay 2 Play," and a potluck lunch in Jefferson NH.  Contact Olivia for more information.  

Sunday, March 29, "Race Between Us" book release party with Brenda Lett and LaurieLee Woodlock Roy, at the YWCA, 72 Concord Street, Manchester, 2 pm-4pm. 

Wednesday, April 1, NH Voices of Faith prayer breakfast and vigil for a humane state budget.  8 am prayer breakfast at St. Paul's Church, 21 Centre Street, Concord.  Followed by prayer vigil inside the State House during budget debate.  We hope to have a presence at the State House through the entire debate, so please consider coming for any part of the day.  Contact Maggiewith questions or to let her know you plan to attend.   Look for more details in next week's newsletter, or watch the NH Voices of Faith Facebook page.   

-Arnie Alpert and Maggie Fogarty

PS - Don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook.  Search for “American Friends Service Committee-NH” to “like” us.  After all, we are your Friends.

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.  Click here for back issues.

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 direct the New Hampshire Program, publish the newsletter, and co-host the “State House Watch” radio show on WNHN-FM.  Susan Bruce helps with research and writing.  Addy Simwerayi produces the radio show.  

"State House Watch" is made possible in part by a grant from the Anne Slade Frey Charitable Trust.

Your donations make our work possible.  Click the “DONATE NOW” button on our web page to send a secure donation to support the work of the AFSC’s New Hampshire Program.  Thanks!

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