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Disability advocates cheer education rulemaking amendment 

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ



Monitor staff
Thursday, March 09, 2017

Disability rights advocates are breathing easier after lawmakers substantially changed the language in a bill they had initially worried could be “disastrous” for special education in New Hampshire.

Legislators in the House voted 335-18 on Wednesday to pass an amended version of House Bill 620. As originally drafted, the bill would have prohibited the State Board of Education from writing any rules that exceeded minimum standards set in either state or federal law, unless given explicit permission by state law. 

The measure was intended to limit unfunded mandates and give greater flexibility to local districts. But advocates had argued the bill could trigger massive changes to special education rulemaking, and eventually void major protections already in place for students with disabilities and their families.

Legislators on the House floor Wednesday instead amended the bill to say that rules proposed by the State Board “may exceed the minimum requirements of federal law, however such rules shall take into account the fiscal impact to the local school district.”

“The amendment proved to be a victory,” said Lisa Beaudoin of ABLE New Hampshire. “Previous to the amendment, the bill would have been disastrous.”

Beaudoin said advocates would continue to track the bill’s trajectory but were less worried about what lawmakers would do in the Senate.

Rep. Mel Myler, a Contoocook Democrat who sits on the House Education Committee, told his fellow legislators on the floor that the committee hadn’t really had the chance to fully consider the bill’s implications. 

“We began to talk about the problem of this particular bill and its impact. And in the spirit of collaboration and true bipartisanship, we crafted this amendment,” Myler said.

Rep. Rick Ladd, the Haverhill Republican who chairs the committee, agreed, saying lawmakers needed more time to explore the issue, including talking to newly appointed Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who was interested in the issue.

“We need some more time to really dig into this issue. This is just the first step. We will come back further in this biennium with further legislation,” Ladd said.

 

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)