By Rep. MARJORIE PORTER, D-Hillsborough
I’m probably not going to be able to get through this whole column without ruffling someone’s feathers. But when I see things that are blatantly unfair, I get angry.
As predicted, the governor has been busy with his red pen. So far, he has vetoed 15 bills, but it is not yet Friday night so I’m sure there are more coming. I will get to some of them later.
I want to talk about a bill he did sign into law, however: HB 1264. A comprehensive groundwater protection bill, it was one of the omnibus bills amended by the Senate and concurred to by the House at the June 30 session.
The original bill extended the commission investigating the cancer cluster occurring on the seacoast, believed to be caused by tainted drinking water. It was sponsored by seven seacoast Democratic lawmakers. There were no Republican sponsors.
Added to the bill were provisions of three Senate bills dealing with per and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) limits in drinking water and establishing a fund to help localities pay for its remediation. All of these bills were sponsored by Democrats. Not a Republican to be found.
This is an extremely important issue to many communities now, especially the town of Merrimack. So important, in fact, that in 2018, four Democratic women, dubbed the Water Warriors because of their work on the PFAS issue in Merrimack, won half the seats in that previously very red town. These women—Wendy Thomas, Rosemary Rung, Nancy Murphy, and Katherine Stack—have been tireless in working to get this legislation passed.
Minority Leader Dick Hinch, and Deputy Minority Floor Leader, Rep. Jeanine Notter, also live in and represent Merrimack, but their names are not among the sponsors of any of the bills.
Here’s were blood pressure rises.
When the governor signed this bill, who did he choose to have by his side, and who did he praise for their leadership on this issue? The Water Warriors? The seacoast Democrats?
No. He praised Rep. Hinch and Sen. Morse—both Republicans who had not done much more than vote for the bill.
The vote to concur on HB 1264 was 210-116. It should be noted that Leader Hinch and Deputy Floor Leader Notter saw the writing on the wall and did vote to concur on HB 1264. Too bad, as leaders, they were only able to convince sixteen of their colleagues to go along.
I’m tired of being told Democrats are stoking partisan division. It would not have done the governor any harm to recognize the hard work of the Democrats in getting this important legislation passed. To completely ignore them was uncalled for and divisive. One wonders why he felt the need. I’ll keep my guesses to myself.
Two of the governor’s recent vetoes show that sometimes, talk is cheap.
All throughout the state coronavirus shutdown, we relied on “essential workers” to keep things going, so the rest of us could stay at home.
Every day these workers—health aids, grocery store clerks, bank tellers, fast-food restaurant servers, gas station attendants, convenience store and hardware store clerks, associates at Walmart—put their own health at risk to make sure the rest of us could have what we needed and stay safe.
Aside from being essential, employees in these jobs have something else in common. The jobs they hold most likely pay the minimum wage.
NH’s minimum wage is $7.25/hour. We have the lowest minimum wage in New England by far. It’s time we caught up to our neighbors in the north, south and west. That’s why the legislature passed HB 731, establishing a modest increase in the minimum wage, to $12/hour over the next three years. We’d still be behind our neighbors, but at least it is a start.
The governor has vetoed HB 731. So much for those essential workers.
HB 1166 put into place safeguards for employees currently provided for by provisions included in the federal CARES Act. It would extend eligibility for unemployment through December, 2020 (except for the extra $600 which is ending this week), contains stronger worker safety provisions in regards to COVID-19, continues paid leave for those caring for others, and provides funding for upgrades to the state’s unemployment system if needed. These steps would make sure those who are unemployed, or become unemployed, will have a strong safety net through this crisis.
It includes a severability clause, which states, “In the event the United States Dept. of Labor provides written notice to the NH department of employment security that any specific statutory change in this act will result in the loss of federal funding to NH, then that specific statutory change…shall be inoperative”
Evidently the governor’s staff did not read this bill too carefully, because he has vetoed it, saying it would cause the state to lose federal funds.
It’s easy to appear affable on TV, praising our essential workers with feel-good language. However, actions here speak much louder than words. Our essential workers deserve a decent wage, and our working families need assurance they can continue to pay their bills if they become unemployed.
What’s good for business is always front and center for my Republican colleagues. What’s good for workers, not so much.
And finally, a word about the state’s guidance for the re-opening of schools—also known as the “Swiss cheese model.” The commissioner of education wants it to be flexible, to be “nimble,” as he put it at a recent meeting.
Basically, every district is on its own. The state is not requiring anything.
And do you know why? Because if the state requires it, the state must pay for it.
If it is not required, the state is off the hook.
But of course, that means local property taxpayers are very much ON the hook to pay for what’s needed to make sure our public schools can open safely for students and staff. Extra technology, extra transportation costs, extra staffing, personal protective equipment—expenses you and I will see reflected in next year’s tax bill, I’m sure.
And, there will be no additional CARES Act money for public schools, according to the commissioner. We’re on our own.
So that is why I am so very angry to learn the governor is giving an additional $1.5 MILLION to the state’s private and religious schools.