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A look back at New Hampshire’s legislative session

  • In this Sept. 14, 2016 file photo, Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu speaks at a news conference in front of the State House after winning his party's nomination in September. Sununu got off to a rocky start with fellow Republicans this year, but the legislative session ended on a high note for him. The House gave him an early defeat by rejecting legislation targeting labor unions but worked with him to pass a budget last week. AP file



Associated Press
Sunday, July 02, 2017

Republican lawmakers didn’t give their new governor a warm welcome this session, but he sent them off to their summer recess with a smile.

Less than two months after the session began in January, the House rejected legislation targeting labor unions despite aggressive lobbying from newly elected Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. The defeat of the so-called right-to-work legislation revealed a rift among Republicans, who also were split two months later when they turned to the state budget. In April, a small group of conservative Republicans joined with Democrats to defeat an $11.9 billion two-year budget in an unprecedented move that further strained relations between House leadership and the governor’s office.

But by last week, there were handshakes and hugs all around as Sununu joined other Republicans to celebrate the passage of an $11.7 billion budget by the House and the Senate.

“People sent us to Concord to get a job done, and we did it, and we did it the right way,” said Sununu, who signed the spending plan on Wednesday. “We brought folks in, we listened, we talked, we kept working it as best we could, and we came up with what I think is incredible progress for the state of New Hampshire.”

Here’s a look at some other highlights of the legislative session:

Kindergarten

One of Sununu’s top priorities has been funding for full-day kindergarten programs. He proposed an $18 million-per-year, need-based grant system that would have funded programs for districts with a lot of low-income families but wouldn’t have covered the full costs elsewhere. Lawmakers instead approved partial funding and the use of the keno lottery game to pay for it.

The state currently pays half its standard per-student amount for kindergarten pupils, or about $1,800. Under the new law, the state will provide an additional $1,100 per full-day kindergarten student starting in 2019, with more in later years if keno revenues exceed expectations.

School choice

Sununu headed to the Croydon Village School on Thursday to sign a bill that would allow certain school districts to send students to private schools using taxpayer dollars.

The new law affects a handful of small towns that don’t operate middle or high schools and instead send their children to schools in neighboring towns. Among them is Croydon, which got in a court battle with the state in 2015 after using public money to send some students to a Montessori school.

The Legislature delayed action until next year on another bill that would have given New Hampshire one of the nation’s broadest school choice laws. That bill would allow families to turn the $3,600 the state provides per pupil into personal scholarships that could be used for private school tuition, home schooling, tutoring or other educational needs.

Child protection

The state Division for Children, Youth and Families has been under scrutiny since two toddlers under its supervision were killed in 2014 and 2015. An independent review of the agency concluded that it often fails to help children who are at risk of being harmed. Auditors also described a seriously overloaded agency workforce, a restrictive child protection law that sets a high bar for determining neglect and a lack of services available to families.

Lawmakers passed several reform measures, including creating an office of the child advocate and allowing DCYF workers to monitor cases in which abuse and neglect allegations are deemed unfounded but concerns exist about the potential for future problems.

Mental health

Sununu has signed legislation aimed at addressing a growing problem of people waiting for days in emergency rooms for psychiatric treatment beds. Under the new law, the state will contract with private hospitals and nonprofit facilities to set up 20 beds at designated receiving facilities for those subject to involuntary admission and 40 community-based beds to help people transition from New Hampshire Hospital.

Election reform

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump alleged widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire. While there has been no evidence to support the Republican president’s claim, Republicans contended existing state laws create the potential for fraud. They responded by passing a bill that requires voters who move to the state within 30 days of an election to provide proof that they intend to stay.