May 15 House and Senate Calendars Give a Glimpse of How 2020 Session Will Proceed

In the May 15th House Calendar, the Speaker of the House announced that the House will next meet in session on June 11th at the Whittemore Center Arena at the University of New Hampshire. The House last met on March 13th, a marathon-like session that began at 9:00 am on March 12th and ended close to 3:30 am on March 13th. Legislative activities have been shut down since the Governor issued stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19. In announcing the location for the next meeting of the NH House of Representatives, the Speaker issued a statement in the House Calendar that said, in part, “We need a place that is large enough to allow us to socially distance while not being so large as to create its own logistical problems….Our meeting in the Whittemore Center will be an historic event as it will be the second time in the history of the House of Representatives we will be meeting outside of Representatives Hall….Please know we will be taking all available precautions for your safety. Each member will have their temperature taken prior to entering the facility and per UNH guidelines, each member will be given a surgical mask which they will have to wear inside the arena. These precautions will help to ensure everyone is safe.”

A very small number of House Legislative Committee meetings have been held virtually (e.g., Finance), prior to the release of the May 15th Calendars, but other committees are gearing up to conduct work sessions this week and next, including Judiciary, Ways and Means, Criminal Justice and Public Safety, and Finance.

Meanwhile, Senate President Donna Soucy announced that the Senate will hold its upcoming sessions in Representatives Hall. A date for the Senate’s first session has not been announced, and no committee public hearings or work sessions are scheduled in the current Senate Calendar.

In a joint statement, the Senate President and House Speaker issued the following comments: “While some legislative activities, including Committee and Commission meetings, have resumed work remotely, we understand it is important for the Legislature to resume session to complete the work that the people of New Hampshire elected us to do as well as provide important checks and balances to the state government during this crisis. We are committed to returning in a manner that ensures public access to the process and above all adheres to public health recommendations, which is why when the House and Senate come back into session next month we will be meeting outside of our respective chambers for the first time since the Civil War. In the coming weeks, we will release additional information about the policies and procedures for reconvening the Legislature. Meanwhile, we appreciate everyone’s cooperation, understanding, and of course the continued hard work of House, Senate, and Joint staff who make this all possible.”

COVID-19 Local Resources

The following COVID-19 information is publicly available but residents of Ward 2 — and Nashua — may find this compilation useful and convenient.  In addition to these state and regional links, the City of Nashua  maintains a page on its website that contains, additional guidance, information and resources relative to COVID-19.  The City’s web pages on this subject are an excellent source of information.  If you click on any of the links below, a page will open as a new window on your screen.

COVID-19 LOCAL RESOURCES

NH COVID-19 Hotline and Reports:

#211: Coronavirus hotline

DAILY COVID-19 NH Data: ​COVID-19
Granite United Way, supports 2-1-1 and many other non-profit organizations working around the state during COVID-19:  ​Welcome: Granite United Way

STAY AT HOME 2.0 Information:

Stay At Home 2.0 Orders

Testing for COVID-19:
● Convenient MD has a state contract to offer the COVID-19 test, a test for presence of live virus in the body.  A Convenient MD is located in Ward 2 at 565 Amherst Street.  Clinics are open 8 am – 8 pm, seven days a week.

Who can currently seek a test?

  • Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms per healthcare provider
  • Any healthcare worker
  • Anyone 60 years of age or older
  • Anyone diagnosed with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • Anyone diagnosed with serious heart conditions
  • Anyone diagnosed as immunocompromised
  • Anyone diagnosed with obesity
  • Anyone diagnosed with diabetes
  • Anyone diagnosed with chronic kidney disease
  • Anyone diagnosed with liver disease
  • To seek a COVID-19 test, call your healthcare provider or fill out the below testing form

Rent/Mortgage/Utilities Assistance

● Executive Order #4 signed by Governor Sununu makes clear that if tenants and property owners can’t pay rent or mortgage now, they will still have to pay in full when the state emergency is lifted. All tenants who have difficulty paying rent are encouraged to talk to their landlord to develop a payment plan during this time. If you are struggling with paying utility bills, talk with your utility company to make a payment plan.

American Sign Language Resources on COVID-19

Mask Request Form for NH Businesses Re-openingHomeland Security Emergency Management

For Unsheltered Community:

Substance Use Disorder Services:

Family Services:
NH Easy Gateway to Services (includes SNAP, Medicaid and Medicare programs, child care assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), disability aid).

Assistance for New Americans:
● Assisting refugees with community integration and services: ​Ascentria Care Alliance

Unemployment Services:

  • Eligibility for unemployment:
    • The usual requirement to search for work has been waived during the pandemic.
    • The waiting week requirement has also been waived.
    • If you are unable to work due to Stay at Home order or another travel restriction, you ARE eligible for unemployment benefits.

The federal CARES act allows for you to refuse to return to work due to COVID-19 related reasons below:

■ If you experienced COVID-19 related symptoms and sought a medical diagnosis.
■ If a member of your household has experienced COVID-19 diagnoses.
■ If you are caring for a child or another person for whom childcare, schooling, or care facility is closed.
■ If you are self-quarantined at the advice of a healthcare provider.
■ If you are self-quarantined at the direction of your employer.
■ If you were anticipating starting a job for which starting is unavailable due to COVID-19.

■ If your employer is closed, mandatorily or voluntarily, due to COVID-19.

■ If you are temporarily laid off due to COVID-19.
■ If you are self-employed but unable to conduct business due to COVID-19.

■ If you have other health complications and quit your job due to COVID-19.

The State of New Hampshire processes unemployment claims for free, so customers should be extremely wary of any site that charges a fee for this service or asks for credit card information.

  • NH Unemployment Assistance Hotline: 603-271-7700
  • Apply here: ​NH Unemployment Benefits: Welcome
  • Workshare Unemployment Program: ​Program Details
    • A workshare plan can be submitted by an employer whose taxes are in good standing with the NH Dept. of Labor.
    • Workshare plans are eligible for employers who are reducing hours from 10-50% when businesses are reopening and the reductions are spread evenly among all employees and the employer continues to offer healthcare benefits.

Workshare plans allow businesses to keep employees on the payroll and incentivizes employees to return to work at a reduced rate while still receiving the additional $600/week provided by CARES act currently in place.

FAQ for self-employment:
○ Self-employed people are currently eligible for Unemployment Benefits. You will need either your 2019 federal tax return or 1099s. Don’t worry, if you don’t have either or have not yet filed your 2019 return. You can still submit your claim. If eligible you will receive the federal minimum benefit currently set at $167. This will also make you eligible for the Federal $600 payment. You can submit your tax return later when you file. Don’t worry, if you don’t have either or have not yet filed your 2019 return you can still submit your claim. If eligible, you will receive the federal minimum benefit amount currently set at $167. This will also make you eligible for the Federal CARES Act $600 payment.

Statewide Domestic Abuse Services:

Women’s Health Centers:

Planned Parenthood Locations

NH Suicide Hotline:
● #1-800-273-8255
● Link to NAMI NH Supports: ​Suicide Prevention

Schools Get Funding Increase With NH Budget

The two-year state compromise budget signed by the Governor in September increased school funding by $138 million over two years – close to the $140 million boost that Democrats proposed in 2019.

The budget restored stabilization aid to original levels, which the state had been cutting annually, and it provided funding for full-day kindergarten and additional aid to poor districts. Many parts of the new education aid include one-time funds.

Meanwhile, the state’s education funding formula, which historically allocated money in the form of “adequacy aid” to school districts, is the subject of a lawsuit now headed to the state Supreme Court.

State Senator Dan Feltes Announces He is Running For Governor

Dan Feltes (D – Concord), Senate Majority Leader, announced his campaign for governor on Tuesday, Sept. 3rd. He is the first Democrat to enter the race. A former legal aid lawyer, Dan is currently serving his third term in the State Senate. Senator Feltes released a four-minute video announcing his candidacy during which he said, “I’m running for governor for the working families of New Hampshire, for people like my parents, the people I represented, people who tried hard and worked hard and never asked for a damn thing.” (Click here to see the full video.)

Governor’s Veto of Bill to Restrict Possession of Firearms on School Property to Be Taken Up by House in September

Last month, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed three gun safety bills, one of which (HB 564) would have prohibited unauthorized guns in our schools and on school grounds. Exceptions were made for law enforcement personnel, any person picking up or dropping off students provided the gun(s) remained in the vehicle, and any person authorized by a school board – or its designee – to possess a firearm on school property.

In vetoing the legislation, Sununu wrote that the three gun safety measures he vetoed (HB564, HB109 and 514) would not “prevent evil individuals from doing harm.”

Of course a person really intent on doing harm would ignore warnings to keep guns off school property, but maybe – just maybe – HB 564 would keep people from doing something really stupid or dangerous.

In 2017 and 2012, NH legislators dropped loaded guns, which they were legally carrying, during public hearings in the Statehouse. Could that happen in our schools? Of course it could.

Just recently, a man was accused of walking into a Walmart in Missouri equipped with body armor, a handgun, and a rifle less than a week after a gunman killed 22 people in a Texas Walmart. He reportedly told his sister it was “a social experiment on how his Second Amendment right would be respected in a public area.”

How are school officials supposed to react if they see a man equipped with body armor, a handgun, and a rifle approach the school building? Do they have to wait until the individual crosses the “no visitors beyond this point” line before calling for assistance — because of Second Amendment “rights”?

This Missouri resident now faces a charge of making a terrorist threat in the second degree. The prosecuting attorney stated, “Missouri protects the right to open carry a firearm, but that right does not allow an individual to act in a reckless and criminal manner, endangering other citizens.” He continued, “As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously explained, ‘The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man…falsely shouting fire in a theater, causing a panic.’”

In a press release issued last month, House Majority Leader Douglas Ley said, in part, “It is alarming to realize that in the most developed nation on earth, our kids are afraid to go to school. Quite frankly, they have good reason to be….In the first 8 months of 2019 alone, there have been 57 recorded instances of gunfire on schools grounds. As the levels of gun violence in our schools grow to unprecedented levels each year, our leaders continue to send their thoughts and prayers and nothing else. Our children, teachers, and parents become more and more traumatized with fear that their classroom could be next.”

House Bills 109 and 514would have required background checks for commercial firearms sales and imposed a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm, respectively.

Bill Allowing No-excuse Absentee Voting in NH is Approved by Senate and House

On Thursday, May 30th, the New Hampshire Senate voted 13 – 11 to pass HB611 which would allow any voter who wishes, to cast his or her ballot by mail.  Under current law, voters may only cast absentee ballots if they will be absent from the town or city where they live on election day, have a disability that prevents them from going to the polls, or have conflicts due to religious commitments, employment, the uncompensated care of children or infirm adults, or due to severe weather warnings.  The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature of approval — or veto.

Passage of this bill will significantly impact the volume of absentee ballots that will need to be processed by NH election officials.  During the 2016 State General Election, for example, 3,499 absentee ballots were cast in the City of Nashua.  It would not be unreasonable to assume that this number could double for the 2020 State General Election if HB611 becomes law.  However, supporters of the bill believe that a vote-by-mail option for all qualified voters in NH will increase involvement in the political process.

In a statement released following the Senate’s approval of this bill, the prime sponsor, Rep. Katherine Rogers of Concord, stated “It is time that we join the majority of states in America and increase access to the ballot box by allowing no-excuse absentee balloting….Allowing all eligible voters to access absentee ballots is not only fair, it ultimately increases involvement in the democratic process.”

Sometimes a Bill’s Title Does Not Reflect What the Bill Actually Would Do

During the the March 14th House Session, Representatives approved HB 198, “repealing the prohibition on texting while driving” by a vote of 252 – 73.  Why would so many Legislators approve such a bill?  What the bill actually did was repeal one provision in state law, which only referred to texting (RSA 265:105-a) and reinforced a newer, more comprehensive section of state law (RSA 265-79-c), commonly known as the hands-free law.  And it increased penalties: for a first or second offense, the penalty would be $250 – $1000 (not $100), then not less than $500 for any subsequent offense.  Further, the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles would be able to suspend a driver’s license for 10 days for a second offense and for not less than 10 days for any subsequent offense.  So while the bill’s title suggests that the prohibition against texting while driving was being repealed, the bill was actually strengthening enforcement and penalties for the hands-free law.  The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration and if it passes, it will go to the Governor for his signature or veto.

Key Education Bills Receive Initial House Approval

The NH House of Representatives, today, approved HB 564, relative to possession of firearms in safe school zones, which would incorporate the Federal Gun Free Schools Act into New Hampshire law.  The final roll call vote to pass the bill with an amendment was 194 – 154 in favor of the legislation.  This is position that I supported during my campaign for State Representative, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to cast my vote in favor of this legislation.

HB 551, establishing an independent school funding commission, was approved 207 – 148.  Supporters of the bill argued that the legislature has not adequately addressed the directives of the original Claremont court ruling on how to fund public schools and that an independent commission could provide a more comprehensive review.  HB 184, to include full-day kindergarten students in the adequacy formula, passed on a roll call vote, 203 – 148.  Funds currently provided to support kindergarten are conditional on Keno revenues, and those revenues are falling behind initial projections and have been insufficient to fund full-day kindergarten.  HB 177, which would stop the continued reduction of stabilization grants was approved on a 268 – 90 roll call vote.  In 2017, a change to state law would wipe out the stabilization grants over 25 years by reducing payments to school districts by 4% each year.  Many school districts across the state rely on the stabilization grant to make up for some of the inadequacies in the education funding model.

There were a number of very important bills approved by the House today.  Tomorrow is the last day to act on bills that need to be referred to a second house committee.  Over the next few days, I will provide highlights of other bills that were — or will be — acted upon by the House this week.

How to Check Your Voter Registration or Absentee Ballot Request Status

The NH Secretary of State provides an online tool that allows NH residents the opportunity to see if they are registered to vote, to determine what their political party affiliation is, and — if they applied for an absentee ballot – what the status of that process is. In addition, the site provides links to contact information for your city or town clerk and identifies the location for your polling place. If you want to verify your voter registration status, go to: https://app.sos.nh.gov/Public/PartyInfo.aspx