Senate Meets For Short Day and Cleanup

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Members of the state Senate applauded students in the gallery Thursday.


CONCORD – The Senate agreed to kill a bill that would expand the definition of who can qualify for the education trust fund, saying the measure is part of the upcoming budget.

The Senate met Thursday to also develop some defense for bills they want to emerge unscathed from the House, received a pitch from Robert Kennedy Jr. who is running as a Democrat for President, sang together “Take Me Out to the Ballpark” in honor of the unveiling of a marker at Nashua’s Holman Stadium as a stop on the state’s Black Heritage Trail and enjoyed a quick morning of work with very few disagreements or contested bills.

By a voice vote the Senate agreed to a committee recommendation to kill House Bill 440. Opponents said it would give the new Education Freedom Account program a blank check without accountability.

The prime sponsor of House Bill 440, Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, said the bill simply “cleans up and codifies” what is in legislation elsewhere in statutes and comes at the Department of Education’s request. He noted the current trust fund statute does not address money for kindergarten or leases for charter schools.

Others saw it as an attempt to divert millions of dollars to the Education Freedom Account program from public schools without sufficient accountability.

HB 440 would allow the education trust fund to be used to pay for Education Freedom Account grants to parents and for phase-out grants to school districts losing students to the program.

The bill also would have changed the funding for the state’s portion for charter school leases from the general fund to the education trust fund.

The Department of Education would be able to use 1 percent of the money in the education trust fund to administer the EFA program under the bill.
The use of the fund for the EFA program is being challenged in court as the plaintiffs claim the program uses money earmarked for public education for private programs.

The suit, brought by Deb Howes as a citizen taxpayer, who is also president of AFT (American Federation of Teachers)-New Hampshire, seeks an injunction blocking the state from using any more of the trust fund money to fund the EFA program.

State Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, requested the Senate kill the bill noting the money contained in the bill is included in budget bills.
A copy of the bill is here

The Senate also killed, on the same argument that it is part of the budget House Bill 435, related to the amount of grants for free and reduced-priced school meals.

Playing a bit of defense, the Senate added amendments to bills going to the House and agreed to concur with the other body on 27 bills already passed by the Senate.
Another five bills received non-concurrence votes and requests for committees of conference.

Passed was House Bill 46 amended to include debit card payment and liquor commission housekeeping measures which are part of another bill that is being amended in the House and may contain authorization for cannabis sales or legalization when the bill makes it to that chamber’s floor.

State Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said this is the time of the year when “things happen” in reference to bill changes between chambers.
“Things are happening in the House that we need to be prepared for it,” she said.

Carson also offered an amendment to a bill that deals with the percentage of the active ingredient in cannabis THC on a dry weight basis.

House Bill 610-FN passed, an act expanding providers to the therapeutic cannabis program.

State Sen. William Gannon R-Sandown spoke in favor of the bill to include any licensed provider and with provisions requiring two doctors’ approval for pediatric care.
“By expanding the types of providers,” he said. “we can also help patients.”

Another measure was amended as a “discrete modification to bail laws,” favored by State Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, which would require some defendants in cases of violent crimes to go before a judge, not a bail commission.
Soucy said importantly it also makes an appropriation to the Department of Safety to develop a system to share bail conditions with law enforcement.

She said it is important to balance the rights of the accused with public safety and that passed as well.
The boiled-down lobster bill, House Bill 442-FN passed, and that is now only relative to the removal of derelict fishing gear.

 There is no plan in it to allow divers to fish for lobsters.

House Bill 287-FN was also passed, which will allow people to get testing strips to check for the presence of fentanyl and Xylazine.

House Bill 400-FN was re-referred to the committee. It relates to certain assault offenses and bail.

“This bill is quite extensive and we need to be careful,” Carson said.

The Senate is set to meet next Wednesday when Senate President Jeb Bradley R-Wolfeboro said they will to take up the next two-year budget. He said he hopes to conclude and finalize that business on Thursday, June 8.

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