State Sens. Donna Soucy and Dan Feltes: Senate Democrats set to pursue policy priorities

Published: 1/9/2019 12:10:13 AM

In November, Senate Democrats were elected to pursue our Granite State Opportunity Plan; now is the time for us to enact these policy priorities. From property-tax relief to paid leave and access to affordable health care, Senate Democrats have plans to address the needs and concerns of hard-working Granite Staters. While we may disagree at times, we look forward to working with Gov. Chris Sununu and our Republican colleagues in the Senate to achieve these goals.

It shouldn’t be so expensive to live and raise a family in New Hampshire. We’re all better off when every Granite Stater has the tools to build a good life, including affordable health care, education and job training opportunities, paid family and medical leave, and a living wage.

Budgets are the ultimate test of priorities and values, and Senate Democrats will work hard for a budget that works for everyone – not just the wealthy. When the last state budget was written, the Republican agenda meant taxes for corporations went down while your property taxes went up. Instead of sending tax dollars to corporate special interests, Senate Democrats will prioritize the opioid epidemic, mental health, child protection, infrastructure, affordable child care, affordable and workforce housing, and education.

In the last two years of a Republican-controlled Legislature, the state continued downshifting costs onto municipalities and local taxpayers to subsidize these corporate handouts. That ends now. We will work to suspend further business tax cuts and use the increased revenue to provide property tax relief for hard-working Granite Staters.

No one should have to choose between financial security and caring for a loved one. Paid leave is not a vacation – it is critical tool to attract and retain the workforce of tomorrow, to combat our opioid epidemic and care for an aging population. Our bipartisan solution gained traction last year – passing through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives three times and garnering the support of more than 200 businesses.

Unfortunately, Senate Republicans voted down that proposal. After decades of work, it’s time to finally move forward. This year’s paid family and medical leave insurance proposal is a unique, public-private partnership that is good for New Hampshire families and good for New Hampshire businesses.

New Hampshire workers and businesses also need an economy that invests in job training and workforce development, helping workers and family businesses. We can’t afford for anyone in New Hampshire to get left behind; that’s why we must increase vocation, apprenticeships and trades opportunities for our graduating high school seniors, and help people on their second or third careers get into a new job.

Senate Democrats also know that every hard-working Granite Stater deserves to earn a living wage. New Hampshire was one of the first to set a state-specific minimum wage but we ceded that authority during the Bill O’Brien administration. We can’t let Washington dictate what New Hampshire’s wages should be; it’s time to re-establish our own minimum wage.

With the Trump administration’s continued attacks on health care, and a U.S. Supreme Court that could hear a case that would dismantle the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, it is now more important than ever for us to act to protect the health care of Granite Staters. Senate Democrats are advocating policies that would enshrine protections for people with pre-existing conditions into state law as well as codify New Hampshire-specific work requirements for Medicaid expansion, instead of letting the Trump administration deny health care to thousands of people in New Hampshire.

Seventeen states, including many led by Republicans, have joined the case to protect the health care of their citizens. Simultaneously, we’re urging Gov. Sununu to join 17 states and the District of Columbia in a lawsuit to protect the health care of our citizens.

We must ensure Granite Staters have access to the mental health and substance use disorder treatment services they need, when they need them, and that New Hampshire providers can afford to provide these crucial services. That’s why Senate Democrats have introduced legislation to increase mental health and opioid service reimbursement rates – another unfulfilled promise of our bipartisan Medicaid bill. We have also filed legislation to immediately address the emergency room boarding crisis, where 30 to 40 patients a day are waiting for appropriate mental health treatment.

To fully protect our state’s children, we must also finally address the staffing levels at DCYF. The average caseload of a DCYF caseworker is supposed to be around 12 cases. Currently, caseworkers in New Hampshire are handling caseloads of up to 40 or more. Experts are telling us what we need to do to ensure our youth are safe and healthy, we just need to act.

A healthy future for our children also requires a healthy planet. New Hampshire must act on climate. This year, we’re supporting legislation to increase net energy metering limits for customer-generators, encouraging a growth in sustainable energy production that will help both combat climate change as well as reduce energy prices and property taxes.

There is no question that there is much work to be done in 2019. Senate Democrats are ready to roll up our sleeves in the New Year, and we hope our Republican counterparts and Gov. Sununu join us.

(Sen. Donna Soucy of Manchester is president of the N.H. Senate. Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord is majority leader of the N.H. Senate.)

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