Another busy week in the Legislature is behind us, including the fourth Session day for the State Senate. Since I last updated you, the Senate and the House met together in a Joint Convention to hear the Governor deliver the annual State of the State address. I also had meetings with the Lebanon School Board and the Town of Canaan Selectboard. Although Session is a busy time and I am in Concord 3 or 4 days of the week, I am trying to stay connected to the communities that I represent. The work we do in Concord affects cities and towns, and my background as a former mayor and city councilor makes me particularly mindful of the impact of legislation at the local level.
This week, several of my bills made it past major legislative milestones.
SB 407 - the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies Act - has now passed two Senate committees and was passed by the full Senate and is on its way to the House. This bill amends the State Medicaid plan to provide 12 months of continuous coverage - instead of 60 days - for new moms at their most vulnerable time, the postpartum period, and helps us give the smallest and newest members of our state a solid foundation for life.
SB 409 has also passed the full Senate. This legislation helps communities obtain emergency loans from the state for recovery from a catastrophic natural disaster such as the microburst that saw 3-4 inches of rain fall on Acworth in just one night washing out roads, damaging bridges, and destroying culverts. FEMA disaster relief reimbursement can often take years to be received, and many of our state's communities cannot afford to fund recovery efforts and then wait for reimbursement. SB 409 will make no-interest loans available from the state to communities facing a state of emergency due to a natural disaster, allowing these communities to recover more quickly. Now it is up to the House to move this legislation forward and on to the Governor's desk.
The Senate also passed SB 419 which will establish a commission to study the delivery of public health services in New Hampshire through the 13 regional public health networks. Not all New Hampshire cities and towns can afford, on their own, to have a dedicated public health department. Large cities like Manchester and Nashua have full time departments, while Portsmouth has a part-time department. The rest of the state depends on a regional approach. Now more than ever we understand the importance of coordinated public health delivery and the work that public health networks perform. This commission will study the existing regional public health infrastructure and make recommendations to the Legislature to optimize these services.
Another piece of good news is that the Senate unanimously voted to advance SB 422, which establishes an adult dental benefit under the state Medicaid program. 35 other states provide this dental benefit to adult Medicaid recipients, but in New Hampshire this benefit has only been available to children. This bill will help New Hampshire’s low-income, frail, elderly, and adults with disabilities enrolled in Medicaid gain access to dental care. Thank you to Senator Cindy Rosenwald for championing this legislation which passed with bi-partisan support.
We are now more than 30 years out from the Claremont decisions where the New Hampshire Supreme Court directed the Legislature to define and fund an adequate education for all New Hampshire public school children. Three decades later, the Legislature has still failed to find a solution to fairly fund public education. Moving funding out of the public education system to private schools through Education Freedom Accounts program is a move in the wrong direction. This is my simple approach to a complex issue. What is not complex is our job, caring for the education needs of ALL of New Hampshire's children. As the Senator from District 5, the home base to the Claremont decision, my focus is and will continue to be on fair, equitable, sustainable funding for public education.
The Senate has approved the redistricting maps proposed by the majority party. In my opinion, these gerrymandered maps do not reflect communities of interest and ignore some social compacts that connect certain communities, which is why I voted "Nay" on the majority's proposal. Overall, I am concerned that the Redistricting Committee majority didn’t really listen to those of us who spoke up on behalf of our committees. There is still some work to do before the redistricted maps end up on the Governor’s desk. You can find the text and maps at the General Court website. Just type “redistricting” in to the search bar. You can still speak up.
State of the State
The Governor's State of the State was the first time that I have had a chance to meet in person in a Joint Convention of the House and Senate, also together with the Executive Council. My training as a paramedic kicked into action when I responded to a medical emergency toward the end of the Governor's address. You can read the Portsmouth Herald story here.
With regard to the Governor's remarks, I was disappointed that at a time when we should be uniting our state and not further dividing our state, the Governor took a partisan victory lap. The work of our federal delegation was essentially disregarded with the Governor putting space between New Hampshire and the work of our federal delegation. In fact, it is their work that brought infrastructure dollars here, free covid tests addressing public health crisis, the American Rescue plan, and well over a year ago, the CARES act. Those federal programs still have lasting effects for Granite Staters, and credit should be given to US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, US Senator Maggie Hassan, Congresswoman Annie Kuster, and Congressman Chris Pappas. Governor Sununu’s message that the federal government is not listening to New Hampshire while at the same time praising the work that’s been done with those dollars is sad, disingenuous, and partisan.
Solidarity with Student Workers
This week, I had the opportunity to hear from Dartmouth students who are organizing a union for student workers on campus. The National Labor Relations Board will be holding a vote throughout the month of March, and the votes will be counted March 30. If the yes votes win, the union will be formed. It was inspiring to hear the stories of these student workers who have faced serious difficulties working in food service on campus during the pandemic, and I am proud to stand with them as they organize for improved pay, benefits, and working conditions. As a member of a union family - where my husband was a 30-year member of Lebanon Firefighters Professional Association - I look forward to welcoming the Dartmouth student workers into the union family.
Stay tuned to my Facebook page - Sue Prentiss for NH Senate District 5 - where I post weekly videos about what's happening in Concord and at home in Senate District 5. I am always interested in your thoughts, your questions, and your concerns.
In closing, I want to acknowledge the devastation happening in Ukraine right now. Seeing the Ukrainians standing up for their nation reminds me of the important role that we all play in defending our democracy. I stand with Ukraine and pray for the safety of the Ukrainian people.