February 25, 2019
The NH Senate is taking its end of February break this week—no hearings or session. This puts us ¼ of the way to the legislative finish line. Much has been accomplished with much more to come as each chamber determines by the beginning of April what legislation will be moved forward to the other chamber.
This past week the full Senate passed to the Finance Committee my bill on assuring State appropriations commit to supporting Special Education funding. For years the State has reduced special ed reimbursements to school districts, sending only the amount appropriated in the State budget rather than the 80 percent of the district special education catastrophic aid that is required in the statute. Every special education budget in New Hampshire experienced a shortfall, totaling $3.1 million statewide. Additionally, in some school districts Medicaid reimbursements for special education expenses, such as speech and audiology services, are diverted by cities into their accounts, leaving special education budgets further unbalanced. The bill assures all future reimbursements go directly to school districts. The Governor includes this in his budget, due to be released on March 1.
When we come back to Senate session on March 7, several of my bills will be up for votes. The Career Readiness Drive to 65 (SB 276), relative to career readiness credentials for high school students,has a 5-0 recommendation from the Education Committee. Drive to 65 builds on the 65 by 25 goal to have 65% of New Hampshire’s workforce possessing a post-secondary credential by 2025, a mission embraced by the Community College System of New Hampshire, NH Coalition for Business and Education, and the NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs. It is a systematic and holistic approach through high school years, whereby a career aspiration assessment in 9th grade facilitates course mapping towards a student’s career aspiration. The program would extend concurrent enrollment opportunities to 10th through 12th grade so students earn both high school and community college credit in approved courses. Upon completion of a school-district approved workforce ready program, high schoolers would earn upon graduation a career-ready credential as well. Employers save training costs and have lower turnover rates. Students enter the workforce with experience, and it accelerates their time to a next degree or credential. Career-ready credentials have been approved in other states.
Another bill of local and statewide interest (SB 185) establishes a rail trail advisory committee to assist the Department of Transportation in updating the state rail trails plan, the first update since 2005. Chuck Redfern, as the NH President of the Rail-Trail Coalition, asked me to sponsor and lead the bill. After passing through the Senate unanimously, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously recommended a General Fund appropriation of $200,000 to the Department of Transportation in the next fiscal year to complete the study. The legislature will be able to measure the return on this investment in the State’s ability to garner new funding for rail trails, increased municipal/town funding for trails, shared maintenance agreements, and economic development and tourism along the trails. Final Senate vote is on March 7.
Many in Cheshire County expressed concern about the Governor’s proposal for Learn Everywhere, proposed for rules by Commissioner Edelblut. Learn Everywhereauthorizes the NH Board of Education to approve non-profit and for-profit organizations and individuals offering learning that local school district must accept towards graduation credit. These rules implement 2018 SB 435, for alternative credit, but seem to go way beyond legislative intent. I proposed SB 140 to clarify legislative intent. After testimony, the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee amended the bill to simply state, “Each local school board shall determine whether to grant academic credit for alternative, extended learning, and work-based programs.” Senate vote will occur on March 7.
Also up for vote on March 7 is a therapeutic marijuanabill (SB 88) I sponsored that eliminates the 90-day waiting period from prescription to issuance of ID cards, which means people won’t be as dependent on opioids. On another note, progress is being made on opening a therapeutic marijuana dispensary in Keene.
Several bills of local interest that I introduced are scheduled for hearings in the next couple of weeks
Allowing Alternative Treatment Centers (therapeutic marijuana clinics, SB 145) to become for-profit. Commerce Comm. @ 2 pm, State House 100
Telemedicine expansion (SB 258) to cover primary care physicians, home patient monitoring, and store and forward technology. Health and Human Services Comm. @ 2:15, LOB 101
School Nurses Certification Requirements (SB 137) Education Comm. @ 9:45, LOB 103
Board of Mental Health accelerating reciprocity licensure (SB 80), EDA Comm., Legislative Office Bldg. 101 @ 9:50
Democratic Opportunity Agenda bills moving to the House include: family medical leave, workforce training, improved Medicaid reimbursements, healthcare workforce entry strategies, reducing caseloads for child neglect and abuse case workers, and creation of the Graduate Retention Incentive Partnership (NH GRIP, SB12). All of these actions represent progress on top statewide concerns.
I hope you’ll keep in touch on matters of interest to you and on which you’d like to testify. Nothing is more effective than putting a Cheshire County voice to an issue of local importance.