FULL REMARKS: Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Priorities
Good afternoon – thank you all for joining the Senate Democratic Caucus today – in person and on Facebook Live – as we lay out our legislative priorities for 2019. If you’re following online, we invite you to join the conversation using hashtag #Granite Opportunities.
My name is Donna Soucy and I’m proud to have been re-elected to serve Senate District 18 and to now serve as Senate President. First, let me congratulate my 23 senate colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, on their November victories – while we may disagree at times, I look forward to working with everyone as we tackle the important issues facing Granite Staters.
My thirteen Democratic colleagues and I all ran on a shared goal of ensuring that everyone in New Hampshire has the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. Our Granite State Opportunity Plan resonated with voters across the state, and now it is time for us to enact the policies we campaigned on.
While unemployment in New Hampshire is low, many who hold two jobs or low wage jobs are really not reflected in the unemployment rate. These workers need the skills and opportunities to fill the over 10,000 job openings that are advertised each month that our businesses are desperately struggling to fill. Costs are rising and too many families are trying to make ends meet by working multiple jobs, with little or no benefits. We hope Governor Sununu and our Republican colleagues will join Senate Democrats to build an economy that works for everyone—not just those at the top.
We are fortunate to have a wealth of knowledge and experience in our recently elected Senate Caucus to help us tackle the issues our state faces. Senators Levesque, Dietsch, and Morgan join our caucus with years of business ownership and leadership experience bringing to the Senate the insight we need to deliver on what New Hampshire businesses asked the legislature for last session —workforce development and job training. Senators Rosenwald and Dr. Sherman bring an incredible depth of knowledge in the medical arena. Their knowledge will help us protect and expand access to affordable health care for all Granite Staters. And Senator Chandley brings an understanding of the importance environmental regulations play in protecting clean water and public health. These incoming Senators join our strong bench of incumbents, like Senator Kahn who will serve as Chair of the Education and Workforce Development Committee and Senator Hennessey whose experience as a developmental psychologist helps to inform her work on access to health care and children’s health in particular.
There is no question that there is much work ahead of us in 2019 and beyond to continue moving our state forward. If we are going to ensure New Hampshire is a place where everyone has the opportunities and resources they need to thrive, we’re all going to have to work together. Senate Democrats are ready to roll up our sleeves in the New Year and we ask our Republican counterparts and Governor Sununu join us. I’ll turn the podium over to Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, who will lay out our legislative priorities in more detail.
Thank you, Senator Soucy. Bolstered by our win in November and the support of voters across the state, we’re excited to get to work this year to enact the Senate Democrats’ Granite State Opportunity Plan.
Our top priority in 2019 is a budget that works for everyone. Budgets are the ultimate test of priorities and values and Senate Democrats will always put people first. When the last state budget was written, the Republican agenda meant taxes for big corporations went down while everyone’s 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. Throughout this year’s budget process, we will focus on New Hampshire property tax payers, including family businesses, working families, and seniors struggling on a fixed income.
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, many with headquarters out-of-state. That ends now. With Senator D’Allesandro’s leadership, we will work to suspend and stabilize further business tax cuts and use the increased revenue to provide property tax relief for hardworking Granite Staters.
Senate Democrats know it shouldn’t be so expensive to live and raise a family in New Hampshire. Our economy should work for working families—not just the wealthy. We’re all better off when every Granite Stater has the tools to build a good life, including a living wage, affordable education and job training, and paid family and medical leave.
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 necessary 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 over 200 businesses. After decades of work on this issue, it’s time we finally move forward. This year’s paid family and medical leave insurance, is a unique, public-private partnership. We hope this year our Senate Republican colleagues and Governor Sununu will join our efforts to pass a real paid leave policy because it’s good for New Hampshire families and it’s good for New Hampshire businesses.
New Hampshire workers and businesses also needs an economy that invests in job training and workforce development, helping workers and family businesses. I’m grateful to Senator Cavanaugh for leading our efforts to increase workforce development and job training opportunities for Granite Staters at every stage of life. We can’t afford for anyone in New Hampshire to get left behind; that’s why we must increase trades opportunities for graduating high schoolers, retraining opportunities for people changing careers, and programs to retain NH college graduates in-state. In addition, this year Senate President Soucy is continuing her fight for a living wage, submitting legislation for the seventh year in a row to establish and raise a New Hampshire minimum wage.
Access to affordable health care is also crucial to New Hampshire families’ economic security. With the Trump administration’s continued efforts to dismantle protections for people with pre-existing conditions, 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. Seventeen states, including many led by Republicans, have joined the case to protect the health care of their citizens. We recently called on Governor Sununu to join this case, and he called such an effort as a “political stunt”. Protecting the health care of Granite Staters is not a “political stunt”, it is one of our core responsibilities as public officials. I’m proud to introduce legislation to codify protections for people with pre-existing conditions into state law, and I am grateful for Senator Rosenwald’s continued work to ensure no one loses Medicaid coverage because of the Trump administration’s changes to New Hampshire-specific work requirements that were passed with bipartisan support last year. Senator Rosenwald is also leading the fight to increase mental health and opioid service rates, another unfulfilled promise of our bipartisan Medicaid bill, and a critical component in our efforts to make sure that Granite Staters have access to the mental health and opioid treatment and recovery services they need, when they need them, and our providers can afford to provide these crucial services. Another part of that work is led by Senator Sherman, who is filing legislation to immediately address the emergency room boarding crisis, where 30 to 40 patients a day are waiting for appropriate mental health treatment.
There can be no more important job for state government than ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our children. To fully protect our state’s children, we must finally address the staffing levels at DCYF—an effort Senator Morgan will be leading this year. After the tragedies of the last few years, we must continue to bolster DCYF by further reducing the caseloads managed by each caseworker, and we need to do it as fast as possible. The average caseload of a DCYF caseworker is supposed to be around twelve cases. Currently, caseworkers in New Hampshire are handling caseloads of up to forty or more. Experts are telling us what we need to do to ensure our youth are safe and healthy, we just need to act. We will work with the department and do our best to ensure they can do their jobs to protect all of our children.
A healthy future for our children also requires a healthy planet. New Hampshire must act on climate. This year, Senator Fuller Clark will file 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, while Senator Watters continues to push for a program to protect New Hampshire’s coastlines and economy.
From property tax relief to paid leave and protecting access to affordable health care, Senate Democrats have plans to address the needs and concerns of hardworking Granite Staters – we hope Governor Sununu will work with us to achieve these goals.
Thank you all again for coming, we will now take questions from press.