Capital Comments: Votes are there to repeal evergreen law

By State Senator Bob Odell

Last week was the beginning of the committee hearing process.  Under the rules of the [New Hampshire] House and Senate, every bill introduced, no matter how controversial or inconsequential, must have a public hearing.

That keeps the legislature from derailing a bill in secret or having a few legislative insiders decide what will be heard in public and voted on in public.  As they say, the legislature works on the “people’s business” and therefore that work should done in public.

The House and the Senate publish calendars each week giving “public notice” of bills to be taken up by each committee the coming week.  That gives interested parties an opportunity to come and testify.  And everyone attending a Senate hearing wishing to speak is accommodated even if the hearing must be recessed to another day.

And when the committee comes to the point of voting on a bill, that is done in public, too.

Sometimes there are only one or two people in the audience for a public hearing, often wearing orange badges indicating they are lobbyists, and at other times there is standing room only with the crowd winding out the committee doorway down a hall.

The latter was the case with the hearing before the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee on Senate Bill 1.  The number of the bill is a good indicator of how important the Senate majority feels this bill is to counties, school districts and municipalities.

In 2008, the legislature created a law that made pay step increases and other monetary benefits continue even after a public employee bargaining agreement had lapsed and negotiators had reached an impasse.  It is commonly referred to the “evergreen law.” Many of us feel this has placed a tremendous financial burden on local government and has increased costs passed along to property tax payers.

I am the sponsor of SB 1 and have 17 co-sponsors with another Senator in support.  I led off the testimony about the basic goals of the legislation.  A couple of dozen others followed as the hearing went on for two and a half hours.  Testimony was heard from labor union representatives in opposition to the bill including Mark McKenzie, the head of the AFL-CIO in New Hampshire.

Advocates for the bill were there, too.  Cordell Johnson spoke on behalf of the  New Hampshire Municipal Association noting that repealing the evergreen law is the top priority of his association in this legislative session.  He said that with an evergreen law in place step increases and other financial benefits not including COLA’s can help cause labor negotiations to go on for years while pay increases continue even though a contract has expired.

In addition, those pay increases will not have been approved by the local governing body and thus can accumulate to substantial sums.  And, as Mr. Johnson said, the evergreen law makes voters reluctant to approve new contracts in many school districts – and perhaps in some towns –around the state.

Local school board members, members of boards of selectmen and town administrative officials explained the impact of the current evergreen clause on their operations.  Joining the Municipal Association in supporting the SB 1 are the Association of Counties, the School Boards Association and School Administrators Association.

In an “op-ed” distributed to news outlets around the state over the weekend, Deerfield School Board member and President of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, Kevin Barry, joined with association executive director, Ted Comstock in writing, “Since the law was enacted, we have seen more prolonged negotiations, increased frequency of bargaining impasses, voter rejection of collective bargaining agreements, and threatened or actual legal action taken against school boards.  This adds up to the current Evergreen Law being unwise and unsustainable public policy”

There are clearly two sides to this issue.  And everyone who wanted to have their voice heard did so last week.  When it goes to the Senate floor shortly, the votes are there to pass the repeal of the evergreen law.

—-

Even the State House closed for the snow storm last Wednesday.  I do not recall the legislature having a “no work” day for both legislators and staff for a snow storm.  But the fact the storm was going to hit during an entire work day and staff and legislators faced school closings and threatening highways conditions, the leadership of the House and Senate wisely decided it would be prudent ere on the side of caution.

Closing the State House, of course, does not mean the work stopped.  The internet, as we all know, means that we are on the job no matter the weather conditions.

On Saturday, at his Eagle Court of Honor at the Unity Town, Michael Blackwell joined the elite rank of Boy Scouts.  The son of Shady and Melissa Blackwell, Michael, with many scouts, friends, supporters and family attending, was presented with his Eagle badge.

A member for seven years of Troop 38 in Claremont, which is sponsored by Father Cote Council #1820, Knights of Columbus, Michael progressed through the scouting ranks and completed his requirements for Eagle Scout last June.  He graduated from Stevens High School and is now a freshman at State University of New York at Oswego majoring in zoology.  He plans to be an adult scout leader in the future.  Congratulations to Michael, to his scout leaders, his family and all who supported his efforts in scouting.

Senator Odell represents Senate District 8: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland. He is the chairman of the following committees: Ways and Means; Energy, Environment and Economic Development; and Finance. He is also on the Capital Budget Committee.

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