By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
And News Releases
CONCORD – The state Senate passed SB 418 requiring affidavit ballots that Democrats say will disenfranchise voters and most Republicans agreed would make sure elections are safe and secure.
The vote at Thursday’s session was 13 to 11 with Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, the only Republican to vote with Democrats.
The bill disenfranchises the vote of members of the Armed Services serving overseas, runs afoul of the Constitution, and effectively adopts provisional ballot voting in New Hampshire, threatening the state’s First-in-the-Nation Primary, Democrats said.
Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, disagreed.
“This protects the rights of legitimate voters and we should violate the rights of those who vote illegitimately,” Giuda said.
SB 418 says if a voter is not on the checklist and doesn’t have a valid photo identification showing identity and domicile in the municipality at the polls, the voter would have to take a different colored affidavit ballot.
The voter would have 10 days to mail in the missing documentation to the Secretary of State or their vote would be removed from the total vote.
Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said after the vote: “This bill is premised on the false and dangerous narrative that New Hampshire Elections are not safe, secure, or trustworthy, despite there being zero evidence of any widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire.”
The bill will next go to the House for a public committee meeting.
Homeless Shelter Rates
Senate Republicans tabled SB 415 to raise rates paid to homeless shelters.
The vote was 13 to 11 with Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, joining the Democrats in opposition.
Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, said the state is currently reimbursing at a rate per bed per night that is approximately $8.20. Local shelters report their cost per bed per night is closer to $46.
“This underfunding of our homeless shelter system is completely unacceptable. It denies them the services necessary to overcome other needs like employment, training, child care, and social service supports,” Kahn said.
Kahn was so passionate about the bill that he used his personal privilege time at the end of the session to say that it shouldn’t have been tabled, that it should have been discussed and voted on.
He was cut short by Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, who said the privilege had to be something that wasn’t already debated.
Kahn said he didn’t think he had that opportunity and Morse said he would have it.
But before he was done, Kahn said, “There have been a lot of things said today…We’ve said that a rising tide lifts all ships. We’ve said that we need workforce in this state. We’ve said that we care about the most vulnerable. Not true. And I really regret it.”
Retirement, Property Tax
GOP Senators voted to stop property tax increases and to protect solvency of the New Hampshire Retirement System, according to a news release.
Republican Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said following the defeat of SB 434:
“Any changes to the New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS) must be considered in light of the burden they would place on local property taxpayers and on the solvency of the system as a whole. SB 434 would increase the liability to the NHRS by $42.2 million, and that cost would be passed on to local taxpayers.”
The Republican majority sent SB 434 to interim study. The bill co-sponsored by Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, provided for the application of the statutory recalculation of a Group I (employee or teacher) retiree’s annuity at the member’s full retirement age under the federal Social Security system, rather than at age 65.
After the vote, prime sponsor Cavanaugh, Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, issued the following statement:
“Our state agencies are facing workforce vacancy rates of between 20-40%. One of the biggest incentives for employees to join, and subsequently stay in, the public sector is the benefits. However, our Group I members have been getting hit with a 10% reduction to their pension once they turn 65. For over 20 years now, this reduction has occurred due to the increase of the social security retirement age to 67. That means that right now, a $30,000 pension becomes a $27,000 benefit at age 65. Changing the language to ‘the members full retirement age for Social Security’ would have fixed that reduction.
“The Republican message that this will negatively impact Granite Staters is absolutely unacceptable and a blatant falsehood. The people who are negatively impacted are the Group I state employees, the majority of whom are women, who currently are seeing their pensions decrease for no logical reason.”
Electric School Buses
The Senate voted ought to pass on SB 417, prime sponsored by Sen. David Watters, D-Dover. SB 417 establishes an electric school bus pilot program within the Department of Energy. The bill will next be sent to the House for a public committee hearing.
“With the cost of gas and diesel reaching record highs across the country, we need to explore every possible option to help reduce costs while looking ahead to more sustainable, long-term options. New Hampshire has access to funding for this pilot program through the Volkswagen settlement funds and the federal infrastructure bill and earlier this month the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded over $409 million to modernize and electrify America’s busses,” Watters said.
WIC and Farmers’ Markets
The Senate voted ought to pass on SB 403 championed by Sen. Rebecca Whitley, D-Hopkinton. It re-establishes the Farmers’ Market Program in the WIC program, which provides supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutritional education to postpartum women and infants and children up to 5 years of age who are found to be at nutritional risk. The bill will next go to the House for a public committee hearing.
“The WIC Farmers’ Market Program boosts the local economy, provides health benefits to recipients, and creates new opportunities for local farmers to sell their produce,” Whitley said.
Children’s Mental Health
The Senate passed SB 444, also known as the ACEs Treatment and Prevention Act. This legislation builds on the many years of work to improve the children’s mental health system in the state, and will help us identify solutions to better support New Hampshire’s youngest children. The bill will next go before the House for a public committee hearing.
After the vote, prime sponsor Sen. Whitley said:
“This bill represents a missing piece to the system of care and builds on that work by moving it upstream and shifting our focus to preventing crises before they happen.”
The Senate voted ought to pass on SB 448-FN, Sen. David Watters’, D-Dover, bill to require a reduction in fossil fuel emissions by state owned facilities, establish the state government energy committee within the department of energy to advise the state energy manager on how to improve the energy efficiency of state property, and encourage the use of electric vehicles by state agencies. The bill was adopted on a voice vote and the bill will next go to the House for a public committee hearing.
Support American Materials
The Senate voted ought to pass on SB 438, Sen. Tom Sherman’s, D-Rye, bill to establish the requirement for the use of American made steel products in all public works projects where the state administers the contract involving at least $1,000,000.
“One critical lesson we have learned throughout the COVID-19 crisis is the true cost of outsourcing manufacturing. Whether it is PPE, plexiglass, ventilators, or other products essential to protecting the health of Americans during the pandemic, lack of availability within the United States created significant barriers to access during this crisis.
“SB 438 addresses that problem head-on within our manufacturing sector. Supporting American steel manufacturing and New Hampshire’s own steel fabrication companies ensures that there will be high-quality production on American soil, supports local job growth with excellent wages and benefits, and represents a direct investment in our own businesses and economy,” Sherman said.
The Senate unanimously passed the fourth stage of its Property Taxpayer Relief Package, approving $67 million in additional funding to cities and towns to help working families deal with rising costs, according to a Senate Republican news release.
Republican Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said, “The Senate is proud to approve $109 million going back to our cities and towns under our Property Taxpayer Relief Package. With inflation at a 40-year high, and state revenues coming in far greater than anticipated, all New Hampshire taxpayers can and should benefit from a surplus that is a direct result of responsible tax and budget policies.”
The Senate voted ought to pass with amendment SB 344, creating a pathway for remote meetings in a vote of 13-11.
It allows municipalities to vote to expand, through their legislative bodies the use of remote meetings within certain guidelines, including reducing the physical presence quorum requirement for meetings under RSA 91-A, thereby creating a clearer pathway for the continuation of remote meetings.
Senators Gary Daniels, R-Milford, Avard, and John Reagan, R-Deerfield voted ought to pass along with the Senate Democrats.
After the vote, SB 344 co-sponsor Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka said:
“We have seen time and again how access to remote meetings significantly increases participation in local government. As amended, SB 344 carefully threads the needle between allowing for remote access while also promoting the in-person dialogue and debate that sits at the heart of our democratic process. I thank Senator Daniels for his continued persistence to move this issue forward and to my colleagues for their support.”