Legislative Update April 28, 2017
The Senate met in session Thursday morning, clearing their calendar of more than 20 bills in an effort to set the stage for the budget and other legislation that may bring lengthier debate in the coming weeks. Among the bills senators passed was a measure that lawmakers hope will help in the fight against the opioid crisis by continuing immunity from prosecution for persons involved in a drug-related emergency. The House did not meet in session this week.
E is for education
Lawmakers dealt with a number of bills on education this week, including two involving school choice. Among the actions they took:
- The House Education Committee voted to delay action for this year and instead study a Senate school choice bill. The bill would allow parents to use state funds to send their children to private schools or for home schooling, tutoring or other education options, including sending them to a religious school. Democrats on the committee opposed the bill based on concerns that it will hurt public schools. They were joined by some Republicans, who fear the bill will not pass constitutional muster. The cost of the bill is also an issue for some lawmakers.
- The full Senate, meanwhile, voted to hold onto a House school choice bill by sending it back to the Senate Education Committee. The bill allows parents living in a district that has no public school that includes their child’s grade to send the child to an approved, private nonsectarian school. The school taking the child must establish a contract with the sending district. By excluding religious schools, the House bill is viewed as having a greater chance of surviving a constitutional challenge.
- House Education Committee members voted 15-4 to support full-day kindergarten. Full-day kindergarten is a top priority of Governor Chris Sununu. The measure approved by the Education Committee has a price tag of $14.5 million per year. Although that figure is more expensive than Sununu’s $9 million grant program, the Governor expressed support for the committee’s action. The bill now moves to the House Finance Committee for an examination of cost issues.
In response to the continuing mental health and child services crises, Republican Senate leaders have proposed an amendment to a bill requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a 10-year plan. The new measure would become part of the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget and would allow the state to jump start mental health and child protection reforms as soon as the budget passes. With an estimated cost of about $20 million over the first two years, the proposal would add a total of almost 70 new mental health beds. The beds would be divided between about 40 beds for more immediate critical mental health patients, and the rest for transitional and peer support recovery agency beds. It would also create a data management system to help administer state and community-based mental health programs. On the child protection side, the proposal calls for another independent review of the Division of Child and Family Services, creation of a new position in Health and Human Services and a new commission to oversee child protection, and a change in state law to strengthen child protection statutes.
Life, liberty and golf
The Senate passed a bill that gives local selectmen more authority to restrict outdoor water usage in response to drought conditions. The bill includes commercial watering operations, but grants an exemption to golf course turf. It also allows other affected parties to apply for an exemption.
Governor Sununu will have another department head post to fill now that Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Vicki Quiram has announced she is leaving to take a job in California. Commissioner Quiram has family in the west and expressed a desire to be closer to them. The Governor also has yet to announce a new nominee for Commissioner of Environmental Services.
The House will meet in session on Thursday, May 4. The Senate will meet on May 11. Committees will deliberate all week on remaining bills, while the Senate Finance Committee is awaiting the all-important April and May tax revenue numbers as it continues its work on crafting the biennial budget.