As we approach the halfway mark in the legislative session that ends in June, the already frantic pace is quickening as lawmakers in the House and Senate race to meet the March 28 deadline for “crossover,” when bills passed by the House must move over to the Senate, and vice versa.
The Senate held a marathon session on Thursday that went into the late evening, dealing with nearly 90 bills, while the House has scheduled voting sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week just to stay on schedule.
Several important bills moved through the sausage factory that didn’t get much attention, given the sheer volume of sausage being made. For example:
Real-time threat notification system for schools: This bill, SB 253, cleared the Senate in a 20-1 vote, even though the Education Committee that held hearings on the bill wanted to hold onto it for further study. It now moves on to a second review in Senate Finance before coming back to the Senate for a second vote.
The legislative staff estimates it will cost about $2 million a year over the next four years to install and maintain the alert system for all 650 schools in the state. The system will link school personnel directly to law enforcement in the event of a direct threat.
Once activated by virtually any digital device, the system determines the location of the nearest law enforcement officers, regardless of jurisdiction, and directly notifies them of the situation, while at the same time notifying the state 911 center, state police, and a variety of other public safety or homeland security agencies.
Sen. Jon Morgan, D-Brentwood, gave an emotional floor speech urging his fellow senators to overturn the committee recommendation and move the bill along.
He described waiting for the school bus with his 6-year-old each morning, haunted by the prospect of unfathomable violence.
“I can’t shake that feeling that this could be my last goodbye,” he said. “It’s in the headlines all over the country, and we know response time is critical. These systems would save five to seven minutes in response time in active shooter situations, which means the difference between students, teachers and administrators living or dying.”
Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough, was the only vote against the “ought to pass” motion, explaining her concern for rural areas with poor cell service.
“All these systems will not work in areas without cell coverage,” she said. “We may decide in urban areas we need to put this in, but in other areas it could potentially create even more confusion about who is notified and who is not.”
Prevailing wage: SB 271, requiring that prevailing wages be paid on state-funded public works projects, cleared the Senate on a party line vote, 14-10, all Republicans opposed.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Lou D’Allesandro waived the right to a second review of the bill by the Finance Committee, so it now moves over to the House.
If the bill becomes law, workers on any state-funded public works project will have to be paid “no less than the prevailing hourly rate of wages and benefits for work of a similar character in the county in which the work is performed.”
The U.S. Department of Labor has a prevailing wage scale for various classes of workers, based on what most workers get for certain jobs in each New Hampshire county. That document would drive the wages paid on the millions of dollars’ worth of construction projects funded by the state each year.
Local and county projects would be exempt from the new law, unless the project is partially funded with state money.
“We heard from various stakeholders that out-of- state contractors underpay their workers and fail to pay adequate benefits,” said Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester.
Republicans were unconvinced.
“If you vote for this bill, you are voting for the interests of unions over the interest of taxpayers and citizens of this state,” said Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren. “We do not have a problem here. Most employers are paying prevailing wages or better.”
Medicaid contract: The Executive Council on Wednesday took no action on a $1 billion contract to manage Medicaid for the next five years, choosing instead to hold another information session with the bidders on March 26.