CONCORD, NH — Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, had a good day yesterday.

Two bills, of which she is the prime sponsor, were passed unanimously by the 24-member N.H. Senate in a virtual session.

One bill would provide educational aid to local communities impacted by COVID-19. The other would formalize the protection of pregnant employees.

The bills will now move on to the House.

SB135

This bill would change the statewide education funding calculation for FY22 (2021-2022) budgets so that schools are not penalized financially for any dips in enrollment caused by COVID-19, the Caledonian previously reported.

“I heard from many schools and many taxpayers in my district on this bill about how important these funds are to their community,” Hennessey said before the Senate on Feb. 18.

The legislation would direct the N.H. Department of Education to compare enrollment numbers from the FY20 school year (before the pandemic) and the FY21 school year (during the pandemic) and use the higher of those numbers to calculate all types of aid for FY22.

SB135 addresses the two pandemic-related problems: enrollment has declined due to homeschooling, and while any student can currently receive a free or reduced lunch, funding for that program still comes from the number of applications received.

“The unanimous vote by the full Senate today on SB135 is an important step in securing much-needed educational aid to our local communities impacted by COVID-19,” said Hennessey. “By removing the COVID impact on our current funding formula, our schools will not be penalized financially for any dips in enrollment caused by the pandemic. I am proud to be its prime sponsor and thank all of my Senate colleagues for their support today.”

Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, noted, “Based on the Department of Education’s analysis, SB135 would increase State Education Trust Fund expenditures and local revenues by $45.67 million in FY 2022. That is excellent news for our schools and our property taxpayers.”

Area schools and superintendents hope this bill will be passed quickly to provide assurance for their soon-to-be-voted-upon FY22 budgets.

SB68

Hennessey’s second bill came at the request of Gov. Chris Sununu.

The bill strengthens and clarifies for employers the requirement of providing “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant employees before and after childbirth, or in the case of a miscarriage. It was written with help from Ahni Malachi, executive director for the N.H. Commission for Human Rights.

A similar bill was passed unanimously by the N.H. Senate last year, but “died on the table” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The female employee and her workplace [would] have the flexibility to enter into the interactive process and meet the needs up to and including something small, like the ability to take frequent breaks, to something as big as time off for delivery, and to include lactation needs,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, in front of the full Senate on Thursday.

According to Hennessey’s testimony on the bill before the Senate Commerce Committee on Jan. 26, most employers already provide such accommodations, but this bill codifies the protections into state statute.

“The goal of SB68 is to support pregnant women in the workplace,” said Hennessey. “It will reduce barriers to staying on the job while pregnant and to returning to work after childbirth. Additionally, this bill will give younger workers a reason to move or to stay in New Hampshire, knowing they will be supported during their pregnancy and afterwards.”

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