By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – So-called ‘Right to Work’ legislation went down in the state Senate Thursday while they agreed to permit qualified patients and their caregivers the right to grow their own cannabis and gave seniors an automatic drop in Medicare premiums if they become available.
While the House took a snow day from its business and Gov. Chris Sununu rescheduled his plans for a State of the State address (it’s now set for next Thursday at 2 p.m.) the Senate kept up its busy schedule.
The Senate also expects to work hard for the next two weeks on numerous bills as they hope to take school vacation week off.
Right To Work
Senate Bill 651-FN, a bill prohibiting collective bargaining agreements that require employees to join or contribute to a labor union was voted down on a 14-9 vote, despite efforts by Republicans who charged that the state needs the Right to Work legislation to attract industrial construction and more investment.
Democrats argued it would weaken workers’ ability to get raises and they noted that there have not been many of those around lately anyway.
State Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, a gubernatorial candidate, said New Hampshire has the fourth-lowest wage growth in the nation. He said passage of this measure would do nothing to help that at all.
Sen. Harold French, R-Franklin, sponsor of the bill, shouted that he was “shocked” that the bill left committee on a recommendation for it to be killed.
Sen. David Starr, R-Franconia, said without it, the state is missing out on some big construction projects as some companies will only do projects in states that have this law. Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, said the Republican bill was aimed at weakening labor unions.
“I commend my colleagues in the Senate for rejecting this
anti-union legislation. We have seen time and again that the so-called ‘Right
to Work’ legislation is wrong for New Hampshire. When we take power and funding
away from our unions we deny them the necessary resources to advocate on behalf
of their members for better pay and working conditions. This legislation was
rejected by a bipartisan vote in committee and again today by a bipartisan vote
on the floor. I am hopeful that moving forward we continue to work together on
behalf of hard-working Granite Staters – not on behalf of corporations,”
This bill was similar to other Right To Work bills in the past that have also been shelved.
In the cannabis culture, 420 is a number that signifies taking a break to enjoy marijuana at 4:20 p.m. So it was interesting that a bill related to cannabis would be so numbered.
State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, a physician, told Senators he supported the passage of Senate Bill 420 permitting qualifying patients and designated caregivers to cultivate cannabis for therapeutic use.
The bill, if made law, will allow physicians such as himself and other providers to evaluate patients’ clinical situations first.
He said the bill also allowed for “convenience and cost,” for the patient and on a voice vote, the Senate agreed.
A similar bill was vetoed by the governor last year. The bill next goes to the House.
The Senate also voted by voice in favor of SB 646-FN to require insurers to automatically lower Medicare premium rates when a qualifying individual turns 65. Currently, insurers are not required to send notification of the lowered premium rate resulting in unnecessarily higher out-of-pocket costs for the qualifying individual. The bill next goes to the House.
After the vote, Sherman said, “It is our responsibility as a Legislature to make sure New Hampshire’s senior citizens are protected from unnecessary overpayment for their health care.”
A resolution that would essentially stop a Department of Education initiative called “Learn Everywhere” from taking effect was debated by the Senate and ultimately supported on a vote of 15-8. Sens. Bob Giuda and Starr joined Democrats.
Democrats said the controversial DOE effort, championed by Commissioner Frank Edelblut, is about taking local control from school boards and school districts and giving it to the state while Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said this would undermine the Department of Education’s innovative program to allow for students to learn outside the classroom and get accreditation.
Senate President Donna Soucy said the Senate will have a busy next two weeks as they observe a holiday break at the end of the month.
The amendment would have protected them from being expelled or suspended for possessing a firearm when these activities are authorized by local school boards.
“The amendment I offered today was precautionary language protecting high school students who participate in school sanctioned shooting sports and ROTC from possible disciplinary action.
“The language in the amendment would have prevented the misapplication of existing state statutes by aligning our laws with existing federal statutes. It is alarming that Senate Democrats unanimously rejected this amendment, not based on the interest of our schools and children, but upon their partisan opposition to current Second Amendment rights,” Giuda said in a news release.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, took a moment of personal privilege at the conclusion of the session to address his concern about civility and the dangers police officers now face following a recent stabbing of three Manchester police officers responding to a domestic disturbance.
D’Allesandro said he visited the two officers and their families Wednesday at the hospital and he worried about them, their traumatized families and wondered who will want to take these important jobs in the future.
He called for more civility and asked for Senators to
consider things they can do to make this situation better.
“It was heartbreaking for me to see,” he said. “I have said this on numerous occasions. There is a cultural shift in our society and puts these public servants at risk on a daily basis. They go into homes…and they risk their lives.”