March 27

NH State House Watch, the American Friends Service Committee

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State House Watch March 27
2015 Is
sue 11

The big news is still the budget. The budget bills, HB 1 and HB 2, have cleared the House Finance Committee, and will be debated by the full House on April 1 and possibly April 2.  The proposal, which passed the committee on a party line vote, includes reckless spending cuts and rejects reasonable proposals for new revenue.  The separate capital budget, HB 25, is also coming to the floor with bipartisan support but not without some serious problems. Read on fordetails of the cuts and how to get more information.

After the budget talk we'll share bad news and good news on topics such as voting rightsEBT cardsCitizens Unitedcasino gamblingfirearmsright-to-work (for less), and more.  

And be sure to tune into our radio show Monday, when our guests will include Rich Gulla, president of the NH State Employees Association.

Action Steps on the Budget

There are several things you can do in the next few days:

1.  Contact your State Representatives, all of whom get to vote up or down on the budget and many amendments that will be considered.  Let them know you want a budget that meets the state’s responsibility to provide adequate levels of essential services, fairly compensates our public employees, and supports the educational and transportation infrastructures that knit us together into a community.  Click here for their contact information.

2.  Join us on Wednesday, April 1.  AFSC and our partners at NH Voices of Faith are organizing a prayer breakfast at 8 am at St. Paul’s Church, 21 Centre Street in Concord (just across Park Street from the State House).  Participants will include Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist leaders.  After the breakfast, NH Voices of Faith will conduct a prayer vigil in the hall outside Representatives Hall on the second floor of the State House.  Join us for any part of the day.  Contact Maggieto let us know when we might see you.  You can also visit the NH Voices of Faith Facebook pagefor updates and to RSVP.

3.  Join other progressive groups for “visibility” at the State House on April 1.  See Facebook page for details and to sign up.

4.  Add your name to an online petition being circulated by Every Child Matters.

The Process

The 400-member House will convene at 10 am on Wednesday, April 1 with a surprisingly short agenda.  The Consent Calendar includes only one bill, enabling operators of “ballrooms” to underpay their workers.  Then there are the three budget bills, HB 25, HB 1, and HB 2.  With dozens of amendments likely to be considered and matters of great importance at stake, debate is likely to be lengthy.  Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper says, “As this could be a long session day, the cafeteria will remain open for the convenience of members.” If they do not finish their business on Wednesday they will return on Thursday.  

Whatever passes will “cross over” to the Senate Finance Committee, which could begin consideration of the budget as early as April 7.  Just as the House largely ignored Governor Maggie Hassan’s proposed budget, the Senate could ignore the House budget and start from scratch.   

The Senate Finance Committee has until mid-May to complete its work, with a full Senate vote on the budget by June 4.  That will leave two weeks for a Committee of Conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate.  And then it’s up to the governor to sign it, veto it, or let it become law without her signature in time for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

So there’s a long way to go.

The Gory Details

First, let’s acknowledge that the budget is complicated and that comparisons are fraught with a bit of peril.  Many reports have compared the House budget to the one proposed by Governor Hassan, which we said was (State House Watch #6), “modest, not bold, but it could be worse.”  Another apt comparison would be to the current biennial budget, approved two years ago, which restored funds for some programs that had been cut deeply in the biennial budget adopted in 2011.   

We would rather compare the authorized expenditures to community needs for affordable health care, good education, affordable housing, protection of the natural environment, and dignified work at fair wages.  We would rather compare revenue proposals to the capacity of a wealthy state to provide adequate funding.  The gaps in both areas are considerable.

Having said that, budget details include:

•    The NH Health Protection Program (Medicaid Expansion) would "sunset" at the end of 2016, leaving more than 37,000 residents without health insurance once again. 
•    Funding for Developmental Disability services is cut below current levels. This means a return to the enormous (and shameful) wait list that will impact hundreds of NH families that need services. 
•    The budget of the Sununu Center (the juvenile detention facility in Manchester) is cut by a third, with authorization to privatize it.  (See Arnie’s op-ed about the dangers of privatizing our youth detention centers.)
•    Pay raises for state employees, agreed upon in collective bargaining, are unfunded.
•    The Governor’s proposal for a modest $2 million in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund is not included.
•    Funding to the University System of NH is reduced by $27 million.   (NH ranks a firm 50th in the nation on state support for the university system.) 
•    State funding for K-12 education is reduced by $27 million. 
•    The budget for investments in energy efficiency is raided to fund the transportation budget.
•    Meals on Wheels and other programs lose funds.
•    Funds for ServiceLink are eliminated entirely.

Experienced State House Watchers that we are, we admit it is challenging to analyze hundreds of pages of budget figures (some of which are printed sideways in the House Calendar) and hundreds of pages of proposed amendments.  We expect our friends at the NH Fiscal Policy Institute to publish a detailed analysis by Monday.   

Last Week in the House

HB 357, increasing the number of days a person has to notify the DMV of a name or address change, was the main item. The increase is from 10 days, in current statute, to thirty. Sounds simple.  But there was an amendment attached to this bill, as we explained last week, containing the entire Department of Transportation (DOT) budget, brought in from the Finance Committee outside the normal budget process. As initially proposed, it would have cut $88 million out of the budget, necessitating the loss of half the DOT workforce, as well as eliminating work on roads and bridges. The budget would have meant the loss of federal funds. After an uproar over the DOT budget ensued, the House Finance Committee decided it could plug the revenue holes in their budget by increasing the gas tax. This all went into the amendment.  But on session day, Finance Chair Neal Kurk went before the House to ask that the members vote down the amendment, since it was not germane to the bill. (Speaker Jasper, it seems, is a stickler for playing by the rules.) The amendment was voted down: 365 – 3.  The following day the Finance Committee agreed to raid other funds to lessen the cuts to transportation.   

By the way, the original bill, sponsored by Representative Mel Myler, passed on a voice vote.

Last Week in the Senate

Bills we liked that passed and are headed for House committees: 

SCR 1, the resolution recognizing the contribution of Bhutanese refugees to NH, passed on a voice vote. 

SB 48, the bill to revise the membership and extend the life of the NH Commission on Native American Affairs until 2020, passed on a voice vote. 

SB 135, the bill to strengthen measures to prevent lead poisoning, passed 23-0.

SB 136, on the need for an amendment to the US Constitution to undo the damage caused by the Citizens United decision, was amended, given a new title, and adopted by voice vote.  It now creates a legislative committee to study the language of proposed amendments based on recognition of  “the need for a United States Constitutional Amendment to address the Citizens United ruling and related cases, that protects New Hampshire’s ability to make its own laws regarding campaign finance while protecting the First Amendment.”  Groups including Public Citizen, People for the American Way, and Open Democracy worked hard on this, as did Senator Martha Fuller Clark, who proposed the language that was finally adopted.  Watch for this bill in the House in coming weeks.  

Bills we opposed that passed and are headed for House committees:

SB 169, relative to the permissible uses of EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards. This bill would prohibit the use of EBT cards or cash obtained from EBT cards to be used to gamble, purchase alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, lottery tickets, firearms, or adult entertainment. Also forbidden are branding, piercing, and tattooing. Senator Fuller Clark’s attempt to soften the bill through a floor amendment failed on a vote of 10-13. Senator Feltes also put forth a floor amendment that would have eliminated the entire first section of the bill – the section that included penalties. His amendment also failed on a vote of 10-13. Senator Bradley moved to reconsider the Feltes amendment, and again, the amendment failed on a vote of 9-14. The original bill passed on a roll call vote of 19-4.  (The four champions were Senators D'Allesandro, Feltes, Fuller Clark, and Kelly.) Senator Jeanne Forrester (sponsor of the bill) admits that the bill will be “difficult to enforce.” Terry Smith from DHHS points out that the department has a 13-month backlog in fraud referrals and that the bill does not increase funding for the increased cost of enforcement. It will, unfortunately, reinforce negative stereotypes about low-income people. See the Concord Monitor  for additional details.  The House has already passed a less offensive bill, HB 219.

SB 179, relative to eligibility to vote, provides new definitions of domicile and qualified voter.  It prohibits "temporary" residents from voting and also requires that a voter be a resident of the state and county for at least 30 days before being allowed to register. It ties voting to automobile registrations through changes in the voter registration form.  A person’s business pursuits, employment, income sources, residence for income or tax purposes, and motor vehicle registration will all be taken into account for the purpose of establishing domicile, which means voters without wealth and property will have a harder time proving they are entitled to vote.  Despite protestation by Senator David Pierce that the measure is unconstitutional it passed as amended on a party line vote of 13-10. 

SB 4, relative to domicile for voting purposes, has language on temporary residents that was also included in SB 179.  Senators voted to re-refer this bill, which means it could spring back to life if SB 179 is defeated in the House.

Next Week in the House

As we said, it’s mostly about the budget.

Monday, March 30

The House Finance Committee will hold budget briefings on HB 1 and HB 2 from 10 AM to noon in Representatives Hall.  Members of the public can watch from the House Gallery.  

Following the briefing, Granite State Progress is hosting a news conference in the Legislative Office Building lobby to outline objections to the proposed budget.

Wednesday, April 1

The House will convene at 10 AM to take up HB 25, the capital budget proposal; HB 1, the budget, and HB 2, the budget trailer bill.   Expect many amendments and perhaps some procedural wrangles.  If they do not complete their work they will return the following day.

The agenda includes:

HB 25, making appropriations for capital improvements, recommended for passage on a vote of 18-0. The report acknowledges that the capital budget is an economic engine for the state by creating jobs and a better experience for residents and visitors. At the same time, it deliberately reduces spending, despite the obvious need for investments in so many places.  HB 25 includes $12.6 million to complete the new women’s prison and $4.7 million (matched by $8.8 million in federal funds) to add a 3rd floor for the care of dementia patients at the NH Veterans Home.  It does not include the $2 million appropriation for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund proposed by the governor. 

HB 1-A, making appropriations for the expenses of certain departments of the state for fiscal years ending in 2016 and 2017, also known as "the budget." In the majority report, Representative Neal Kurk, Finance Committee Chairman, says, “This budget is a ‘business as usual' budget. It pays for essential state services for the next two years; it does not deal with the larger issues facing our state, including an aging population, a dearth of young adults and an all-too-slowly growing economy, to the disappointment of many committee members.”  We disagree. This budget does a great deal to harm the aging population and young adults, falls short of paying for essential services, and may well slow down the economy further by cutting services and failing to raise wages.   

In the minority report, Representative Mary Jane Wallner writes, “Collective bargaining agreements are not funded in this budget, undermining our state employees and breaking our promise to them. The minority believes these shortsighted cuts will make it harder for vulnerable individuals to live decently and with human dignity, and the lack of investment in our economy will hurt New Hampshire long into the future.“

HB 2, relative to state fees, funds, revenues, and expenditures.  Also known as the budget “trailer” bill, it features many pages of notes to accompany the line item budget.  All increases in revenue from the Governor’s budget were eliminated.  The language that authorizes privatization of the juvenile corrections facility is included in HB 2.  

Thursday, April 2

This is “Crossover Day,” which means the House intends to complete all business on the budget and any other House bills by the end of the day.   

Coming up in House Committees

Tuesday, March 31

Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Room 302, LOB
1:15 PM  SB 219, relative to breastfeeding. This bill requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to women who are breastfeeding. The bill also exempts a nursing mother from jury duty. 

Education, Room 207, LOB
10:30 AM  SB 265, establishing the ABLE savings account program. 

Tuesday, April 7

House Ways and Means, Room 202, LOB  
9 AM  SB 113,  the Senate’s 2-casino bill. More on that next week. 

Coming up in Senate Committees

Tuesday, March 31

Finance, Room 103, SH 
1:20 PM  HB 534, relative to the duties of the housing finance authority. 

1:40 PM HB 607, relative to fees for carrying a concealed firearm. This bill assumes that the current statute requiring a concealed carry permit, obtained through the local police chief, is in place. The current bills to eliminate the concealed carry permit would eliminate any justification for this legislation.  HB 607 specifies that the fee for a concealed carry permit will be $10 for in-state residents, and $100 for out-of-state residents. The revenues raised by the in-state fee will go to the town, and the monies raised by the out-of-state fees will go to the state. 

2:00 PM  HB 658, prohibiting collective bargaining agreements that require employees to join a labor union. This is the right-to-work (for less) bill that recently passed in the House on a vote of 149-146. It makes an exception for firefighters and police, who would still be allowed to negotiate contracts that include agency fees, which prevent non-members from freeloading.  Early in March, the Senate voted to table SB 107, another right-to-work (for less) bill. We are hopeful that HB 658 will meet a similar fate, but it wouldn't hurt to show up at the hearing.   

Events Coming Up

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.  Martha Yager, who as the AFSC’s Economic Justice Project Coordinator helped conceive and start the Cold Weather Shelter, is expected to make an appearance!  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 to 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 on the NH Voices of Faith Facebook page.   

Wednesday, April 1, a lecture by Dr. Robert Forrant, professor of history at U Lowell, on the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike, when approximately 23,000 mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, walked off the job following a cut in pay by factory owners.   At the Cheshire County Historical Society, 426 Main St, Keene, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM. This presentation is open to the public and free of charge. For more info call 603-352-1895.

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

Our guests next week will be Rich Gulla, President of the NH State Employees Association/SEIU Local 1984, and Ed Fallon, host of "The Fallon Forum," an Iowa radio show billing itself as "the fusion of politics and civility."  Our show, which also fuses politics and civility, airs on Monday from 5 to 6 pm and re-broadcasts on Tuesday from 8 to 9 am on WNHN-LP.  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 Representative Cindy Rosenwald and Neil Levesque of the NH Institute of Politics.  .   

Governing Under the Influence

New Hampshire bird dogs have had productive encounters in recent days with Rand Paul and John Kasich.  Ted Cruz is in the state today and tomorrow, with Martin O'Malley coming next week.  If you want to meet them, check out the Candidate Calendar on our website to find out where and when.  Contact Olivia for help deciding what to chat about and to report on what happened.  By the way, "bird dogging" has nothing to do with hunting in the literal sense.  It's about tracking down the candidates, letting them know what's on our minds, and finding out what's on theirs.  Read Eric's blog post on "3 Reasons Why We Bird Dog"  for more. 

-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.  We also thank Judy Elliott for help with proofreading.  

"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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