Senate kills HB 231
Attempt to harm retirees called “over the line,” “arbitrary,” and “idiotic”
By a unanimous vote, the State Senate yesterday killed HB 231, a House bill that would have seriously harmed public employee retirees who rely on promised health care benefits.
The Senate Finance Committee also stripped HB 231’s financial reductions from the budget trailer bill HB2.
The vote followed last week’s unanimous recommendation by the Senate Executive Departments and Administrative Committee to make the bill inexpedient to legislate (ITL).
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said that the bill as proposed by the House would effectively put retirees into harm’s way. “We should not place on the shoulders of loyal state employees this unfair and unequal task,” Carson said.
Sen. Ray White, R-Bedford, also spoke against the bill, saying he understood the need for fiscal restraint on health care costs, but that HB 231 was “over the line”, based on testimony during the hearing that this legislation would impose potentially draconian cuts.
Sen. White added that legislators need to bend the cost curve of the health care and “should involve the retirees themselves in determining the changes we make.”
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, was more pointed, calling the bill “idiotic.”
Testimony from retirees and current employees against the bill had been relentless since it was first introduced in the House by Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, in February. Hundreds of SEA members appeared at hearings to oppose this reckless legislation; at the first hearing held, dozens of them awaited an opportunity to testify in the House but were turned away.
The number of members who engaged in this battle by testifying in hearings, calling and writing letters to legislators and to newspapers, and speaking out against the proposed cuts with powerful personal stories was too large to count, observed Diana Lacey, SEA President.
"The members' role in defeating this cruel and immoral bill cannot be overstated,” Lacey said. “Bringing their collective voice to the forefront, and having it stand in contrast to the impact of dangerous budget cuts, was key to reminding legislators that New Hampshire can and should do better.”
Retiree Dan Webster, president of SEA Chapter 1, said in a phone interview, “I’m certainly glad they killed that bill; it was murder for retirees.” He agreed that retiree protests made a difference. “I think they (legislators) pay attention – after all, we vote, too,” Webster said. “I’m sure they looked out the window and saw 5,000 people on the day of the rally – and all those people vote, too.”
Overall, Webster observed that while “the Senate is conservative, too -- just like the House -- they are taking a more reasonable approach” to the budget. Webster urged retirees to continue contacting Senators about retirement issues. “It makes a difference.”
As passed by the House, HB 231 would have set an arbitrary limit of $27.5 million on the amount of General Funds that could be used to pay health care costs for retired state employees -- a 30% reduction at a time when more people are entering retirement monthly.
Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, the chair of Senate Finance, said that he wanted to create a Senate position on this issue in the budget. He has asked Administrative Services to present alternative plans to the budget need this item creates. During last week’s hearing, Commissioner of Administrative Services Linda Hodgdon testified against the bill, and offered to sit down with legislators and retirees to come up with "sensible solutions."
Senate kills ‘At-will employee’ provision in budget bill
Finance Committee removes parts of HB2 as policy meddling
The Senate Finance Committee yesterday stripped dozens of non-budgetary policies tacked onto the budget by the House – and specifically killed Rep. Neal Kurk’s “at-will employee” provisions from HB2.
In making the recommendation, the Senate signaled that the House had gone too far in their version of the budget by attaching significant policy provisions onto the spending bills.
In media reports, Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said that “the House had loaded onto this budget bill (HB 2) many changes in policy that had nothing to do with state spending.”
“The trailer bill is designed to supply the technical statutory changes necessary to implement the policy decisions that are part of the budget. It is not supposed to include non-budgetary policy decisions such as collective bargaining. We believe an issue like that requires a public hearing as well as an up or down vote by legislators,” Bragdon said.
Kurk, R-Weare, slipped the “at-will’ provision into a late-night amendment to the budget bill as the House finalized the budget, effectively making all public workers at-will employees once an existing labor contract expired. A similar version of the “at-will” provision lurks in another Kurk bill, HB580, on public employee pensions.
Kurk has claimed in media reports that he hoped to strengthen Gov. John Lynch’s hand in trying to get $50 million in health care benefit concessions from the State Employees Association in the next labor contract for state workers.
But yesterday, Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said that this “was not the way to do it.”
“He did what he thought was appropriate,” Morse said of Kurk in one media report. “If a policy committee wants to debate this issue, that’s fine, but it doesn’t belong in the budget.”
Gov. Lynch told reporters yesterday that contract negotiations with state employees are underway. “I’m optimistic we are going to eventually come to an agreement,” Lynch said in media reports.
As for Kurk’s collective bargaining amendment, Lynch said he opposed it and said it was counter-productive rather than helpful.
‘’I think it was unnecessary, inappropriate in where it was put in the budget and raises some unnecessary angst,” Lynch said.
SEA members and other public employee unions vehemently opposed the Kurk “at will” amendment because of the implications it had for hundreds of contracts large and small across the state.
“Mr. Kurk’s amendment was nothing short of a deliberate, ongoing attack on collective bargaining, public employees, unions, and the middle class,” said SEA President Diana Lacey. “He inserted this into the budget without any public notice, without public debate, without a public hearing, and with complete disregard for decades of collective bargaining law in this state. The Senate has shown great wisdom in stripping this from the budget and, we hope, will also kill HB580 as a bad piece of legislation.”