The Senate Education and Work Force Development (WFD for short) Committee met Tuesday morning and heard testimony for and against six bills. It did not go into executive session to declare any bills “Ought to Pass,” or “Inexpedient To Legislate.”

First up was SB 136, a bill about in-state and out-of-state tuition at colleges. It wanted to establish a bunch of appointed administrators and rules and regulations. It was stated verbally during the hearing that kids who graduated from NH high schools would get in-state rates. This sounds reasonable. This idea did not appear in any of the bill write ups.

Moving right along we get to SB 144, a bureaucratic squabble that should have been settled by a phone call or two. When we legalized Keno a while ago, the sweetener was a promise that all the Keno revenue would go toward funding kindergarten. Apparently the lottery commission was stuffy about letting the Dept of Ed know how much Keno revenue was available and when it might be available. So DOE came to us, the legislature, to lay the hammer to the lottery commission and get them to cooperate. Anyhow the lottery commish allowed that they had $5.25 mil in Keno money this year, and they would know how much they had every year by 27 June. As an aside, they admitted to $96 mil in overall revenue, a nice chunk of change.

And now we got to SB 107, which would allow certain kids to stay in foster care until they reached the age of 21. A lot of passionate support for this one. It was revealed that only 12 kids would be eligible, which does not sound like a budget buster to me.

And now a hot potato, SB 196 which would reverse last year’s bill to make “non-academic” school surveys opt-in, rather than opt-out. Three witnesses provided examples of truly awful “non-academic” surveys which asked about student’s sexual orientation, racial heritage, whiteness, social standing. The questions aggravated racial and social tensions and exposed students with non-standard sexual orientation to bullying. A lot of social science types testified that opt-in had reduced response to their surveys from 85% to 30% and ruined their data collection plans.

And now, an even hotter potato, a bill to require that school starts AFTER Labor Day. Personally I am in favor; I think starting school in August is child abuse. A bunch of summer business folk, Whale’s Tale Waterslide, Clark’s Trained Bears, and others testified that starting school in August was hurting their business. A bunch of school admin types testified that they just had to start school in August to fit in the state mandated 180 school days,

And last, but not least, SB 108 which would make private schools eligible for the Governor’s Scholarship program.

Wednesday I went to a House committee hearing on HB635. This was from Berlin, asking to do a special “in lieu of taxes” deal on a project to build a super greenhouse to grow tomatoes and salad greens. By rights, a city or town ought to be able to write tax deals on their own hook, and not have to come to the legislature for permission. But things don’t work that way. Berlin sent their mayor, their city manager and some other folk to testify in favor of the project.

This greenhouse project was so big that they were going to put in their own electric power generation and use waste heat from the engines to heat the green house[s]. Co-generation it is called. I testified in favor, there was serious investment ($ millions), it would employ a lot of people, and I like fresh tomatoes in the winter as much as anyone, and all the Berlin people were in favor of it, they need the industry. What’s not to like? This was just a hearing to present testimony, the committee did not go into executive session to vote the bill “Ought to Pass” (OTP in legitative speak).

In the afternoon Republicans held a caucus to discuss bills coming up in the Senate session to be held the next day. That ran till 3 PM.

Thursday was my first real Senate session, the kind where we get to vote on bills. Surprisingly, we just voted each bill as Ought to Pass (OTP), or Inexpedient To Legislate (ITL) rather than pass or kill. There was talk about “second reading” so I guess the same bill gets put on the floor again and maybe again and we vote pass or kill on the last reading of the bill.

For bills, we started with SB16, whose purpose was obscure but deemed harmless. Voice vote made it OTP. SB 17 was the same thing, obscure but harmless and voice voted OTP. SB 18 was next. It was about employee wage deductions and we Republicans objected to it. We had a roll call vote on this one, 14 democrats voted OTP and we 10 Republicans voted ITL.

Moving right along, we had SB 43, which created yet another study commission, this one to study barriers to increased land development in New Hampshire, most likely caused by snob zoning, greenies, and NIMBYs. Voice vote made SB43 OTP.

Now we get to a bad one, SB2. This wanted to take $4 mil out of the unemployment trust fund and blow it on “work force development”. I am against skimming money from unemployment, an essential service, to fund anything else, particularly when we have already voted $84 mil for “work force development” and we haven’t spent it all yet. There was a lot of debate on this one, lasted an hour. Did a roll call vote, 14 democrats voted OTP, and we 10 Republicans voted ITL. I hope the governor will veto it.

Then we have SB5 once described as “Medicare Expansion” raising Medicaid re imbursement rates for mental disorders and drug rehab. The rates have been so low that hospitals have failed to add mental health beds, even with good solid state subsidies. The hospitals are all just scraping by, and they need the money. We did a roll call vote on this one and it got unanimous OTP.

And finally we got to SB 11 which did funding for 44 more mental health beds. We need more mental health beds; we have something like 40 patients confined in emergency rooms, waiting for a bed to open up. We Republicans offered an amendment adding mobile crisis teams, more beds, and more funding. Vigorous debate. The democrats voted our amendment down on a roll call vote 14 to 10. And then they voted thru their original sparse version on another roll call 14 to 10.

As we had dealt with all the bills on the calendar, a motion to adjourn was offered and passed. Out in the real world a motion to adjourn means everyone gets up and leaves the room. Not in the Senate. President Soucy says something like “Morning session is adjourned (it being after 2PM) and afternoon session starts right now.” Fortunately all we did in afternoon session was listen to a couple of eulogies, about people I had never heard of. I listened, respectfully. Then we had a second motion to adjourn and we actually got up and left.

Then I got my portrait taken for the website. Around the statehouse everyone refers to portraits as “head shots”. Scary word. Head shot is what you do to deer with your 30-30 if you are stupid enough to pass up a shot to center of mass. And finally Chris Ellms, one of the governor’s guys, buttonholed me and I had a nice chat with Chris Sununu. He inquired about the Nansen ski jump project over in Berlin, and allowed as how after an exceptionally good year there was just a tad of money that might be spent on North Country infrastructure. Which is fine by me, and unfortunately I could not think of any North Country projects other than rebuilding Lakewood Elementary school in Littleton. If anyone knows of worthy projects, pass them on to me, there might be a little funding to be had.

— David Starr is a New Hampshire State Senator from District 1.

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