This legislative session has certainly been one of the strangest and most memorable ones I or anyone else have experienced. The pandemic essentially shut down the New Hampshire legislature for the better part of 3 months and the Governor issued 58 emergency order under the state of emergency we are still under and a legal and constitutional battle remains over the checks and balances that the executive is operating under during this unprecedented time.
The legislature despite social distancing restrictions and opposition from the minority in the House still managed to salvage several initiatives. The state senate merged hundreds of pieces of legislation into several omnibus type bills to accommodate the abbreviated timetable under which they had to operate. Still, there were hundreds more bills that had to be left by the wayside for another year given these constraints.
The following update is a summary of what got accomplished (or stopped) that directly impacts NEA-NH members. It may not be an exhaustive list so please always feel free to reach out if you feel something was omitted or you have a question on the content. I am available at email@example.com or you can reach me on my cell phone during remote working at (603) 545-7305.
There will be a follow up to this update once bills are signed or vetoed by the Governor. Thank you for all you do for the students and families of New Hampshire!
Education Omnibus Bill
The Senate Education committee put together a very large omnibus amendment to HB 1558 that contains a various provisions related to K-12 public education, including a priority piece of legislation for NEA-NH around better protecting educators from violent acts tragically committed against them by students. HB 1558 passed the senate on a voice vote and has passed the House.
Better protecting Educators against violence in schools by:
- Requiring Joint Loss Management committees to establish safety plans and protocols for when an educator is being assaulted in school by a student and mandate adequate training and communication about such protocols to better keep school staff safe
- Establishing protective language under the state department of labor for reporting injuries as a result of such an attack – school districts can be fined for discouraging employees who report injury as a result of violence committed against them
- Requiring all assaults on educators to be reported to the Department of Education and that a process be established for addressing those school districts who do not report such incidences under the Safe Schools Zones law. In addition to the DOE these attacks must also be reported to the respective local school board.
HB 1558 also:
- Makes changes to statues around process and criteria for suspension and expulsion of public-school students
- Fixes a provision in the full-day kindergarten statute that had left several school districts without the full adequacy amount for their kindergarten programs
- Requires the state DOE and DOL to work cooperatively to develop more consistent definitions and applications of the child restraint laws due to lack of clarity and inconsistent guidance
- Requires school districts to provide materials or training concerning sexual abuse prevention to any staff in schools who require a criminal history record check
- Modifies the law around a student changing school districts due to manifest educational hardship:
- Lays out a procedure for the parent or guardian to apply to their home district superintendent that the school board place the student in another school district for the best interest of the child
- Establishes an appeals process to the local school board through a hearing
- Provides that a parent can appeal a local school board’s decision to the state board of education
- Increases the amount of year end unassigned general funds a school district may retain and gives flexibility for the purposes those funds may be expended. With approval of the legislative body a district can retain up to 5% of the current fiscal year’s net assessment.
- Requires that the DOE assist school districts who are utilizing multi-tiered system of supports for behavioral health and wellness (MTSS-B) although does not add any additional state appropriations for this item
- Adds the use of MTSS-B to the list of characteristics of the System of Care for Children’s Mental Health
- Requires the Department of Education to conduct criminal history record checks of school bus drivers and bus transportation monitors
Veterans Higher Education benefits
Another omnibus bill passed by the legislature was relative to different benefits for military and veteran families and access to education and job training. HB 1582 contained several sections but these 2 in particular would impact those in higher education:
- Establishes a tuition waver at UNH or CCSNH for the child of a totally and permanently disabled veteran
- Requires UNH and CCSNH to award college credit for military training courses completed and increase flexibility in application and course registration procedures for veterans
Learn Everywhere Alternative
Last year, Commissioner Edelblut was temporarily halted by the legislative rules committee from implementing his Learn Everywhere initiative, a program that removes educators and school districts from extended learning opportunities (ELOs) and giving the state board the authority to grant credit for such programs. Governor Sununu also vetoed a bill that would have clarified the fact that it is school districts that ultimately grant and credits leading toward graduation.
Given this situation NEA-NH worked with Senator Jeanne Dietsch to sponsor SB 1454 to embody a compromise that was talked about at the height of the Learn Everywhere controversy: the state board of education could support local school districts’ ability to find ELO programs for students by taking on the administrative burden of searching, screening and creating a preliminary approved list of vendors. The ultimate approval of credit would still lie with the local school board, thereby keeping professional educators involved in ensuring a worthwhile experience for our students. NEA-NH thinks this is a good compromise toward supporting ELOs and urges the Governor to sign this bill which was passed by both chambers.
DeVos Charter Grant
Many members reached out to the joint legislative fiscal committee who several times rejected the large charter grant that Secretary DeVos and Commissioner Edelblut coordinated on to double the number of charter schools in New Hampshire. After failing at the fiscal committee, Senator Jeb Bradley attempted to require acceptance of the grant money legislatively in SB 747. This legislation was laid on the table and has effectively died there, having not made it out of the senate in time. The acceptance of this grant would have placed long term undeterminable costs on public education without benefitting our public schools.
Investment Fee Disclosure – HB 1326 requires the independent investment committee of the NH retirement system to include in its quarterly report a description of investment fees and that its report be available on the NHRS website. This was a bill that NEA-NH worked on with our other public sector labor allies of the NH Retirement Security Coalition.
The senate amended, and both chambers passed along party lines, HB 1494 a pro-worker omnibus bill that contained a number of provisions, some of which include:
- Establishing and occupational safety advisory board to advise the state labor commissioner on adopting OSHA type standards for public employees. The language also would require that public employers provide employees with at least the level of protection provided under the federal OSHA.
- Eliminating the offset for workers’ compensation benefits applicable to group I members (employees and teachers), whose spouse receives an accidental death benefit from the retirement system
- Restore the ability for NH public sector employees to form a union when a majority of employees in a bargaining unit sign an authorization card
- Provide a state death benefit for municipal or state public works employees killed on the job
HB 1494 contains a lot of positive items for workers rights and safety. Sadly, we expect Governor Sununu to veto this bill given his record of opposing stronger rights to unionize and a provision in the bill that makes a change to state employee collective bargaining procedures.
Protecting your privacy
The Senate concurred with a House amendment to SB 19 which prohibits public employees’ home address, personal e-mail address and home or mobile phone numbers from being disclosed to the public. NEA-NH and AFSCME worked on this legislation in light of the aggressive tactics anti-union groups have been attempting since the Janus decision by the US Supreme Court. Anti-union groups have sought to target union members for membership dropping campaigns by obtaining their personal information. We hope the Governor will sign this common sense legislation.
Democrats and Republicans in the state senate reached a compromise amendment to HB 1266, relative to temporary modifications for absentee voting, something that will be crucial given the unknown status of COVID-19 in the fall. This piece of legislation that is on its way to the Governor’s desk would:
- Allow for absentee voter registration out of concern for Covid-19
- Allow for absentee voting due to concerns around COVID-19
- Requires the secretary of state to produce a new form that reflects this additional temporary excuse for absentee voting and registration
- A voter may also request an absentee ballot for both the state primary and the general election for 2020
Should the Governor sign this piece of legislation, NEA-NH will be urging educators to take advantage of this new option as many expect there to be a second wave of this pandemic to arrive in the fall.
Town Meeting and School District Budgets Procedures
HB 1129 made several changes around town meetings and school districts to accommodate some of the process challenges posed by the pandemic. Parts of this legislation is a follow-up to emergency orders that were issued by the Governor. The bill passed by the legislature:
- Allows school districts who have a July to June fiscal year, to make expenditures beyond July 1 which are “reasonable in light of the prior year’s appropriations and expenditures” until a new budget is adopted
- Sets out a process by which a town or school district may hold an annual meeting during a state of emergency for 2020 and 2021 if unable to hold it in-person
What Remains for 2020
There is still more to go on the legislative front including the possibility of an additional special session of the legislature and the House and Senate will need to come back to take up vetoes issued by the governor.
State Board of Education Proposed Rule Change on Remote Learning
In addition, the DOE has made an initial proposal to the state board of education to change Education rules to permanently allow for remote instruction. The board had issued an emergency rule back in March to accommodate remote learning when school buildings closed by emergency order of the Governor, but that is set to expire. Now the Department is going through the regular rules process to issue this permanent change that seems to require that each individual parent and student can access remote instruction. The public hearing on this rule change will be at the August 11th state board of education meeting. Details on remotely attending, testifying and submitting testimony can be found on the rulemaking register here. You can read the initial proposed changes here. After the public hearing, the Department and State Board will compile all comments received and prepare a final proposal for the September 10, 2020 State Board Meeting.
Please be on the lookout soon for a more comprehensive analysis and ask of members to submit testimony on why this rule change as written simply will not work for student, parents, and educators.
Education Funding Commission
Despite the pandemic the Education Funding Commission created by the legislature continues to do their work and will be having more calls for public input as they begin to put together policy proposals. This commission’s work will be critical for providing a road map toward improving how we fund public education in our state. If you haven’t already yet, please take the survey designed specifically for educators perspective on how schools are funded in New Hampshire. You can access the survey here.