Bill to reform mental health system for children clears House

CONCORD — The House on Wednesday joined the Senate in passing a bill that invests $18 million over the next two years to reform the state’s mental health services for children.

The bill passed in the House on a voice vote Wednesday, cleared the Senate 24-0 in March, and will now be included in budget negotiations between the two chambers in June.

Its provisions include an estimated $4.5 million to create a mobile crisis unit for children, with a group of practitioners who can be deployed on short notice for emergency mental health evaluations.

The bill also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to expand and streamline home and community-based behavioral health services for children in a variety of ways.

“This bill implements critical aspects of the 10-Year Mental Health plan,” said House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey.

“The mobile crisis response and stabilization services included in this legislation will promptly address the mental health needs of Granite State children, reducing child protection costs in the future.”

Job training

The House voted along party lines, with all Republicans opposed, to pass SB 2, a bill that would take $4 million from the unemployment trust fund to expand existing job training programs.

Republicans argued that the unemployment trust fund should be preserved for its intended purpose, and that job training should be paid for from the general fund.

State Rep. Jack Flanagan pointed out that the fund went from $250 million to a deficit of $50 million in the Great Recession.

“This is serious money that is involved when we have an economic slowdown, and why it is supposedly held in trust,” he said.

The bill will now go to the House Finance Committee for another public hearing before coming back to the House for a second vote.

Prevailing wages

A bill to require contractors to pay prevailing wages on publicly funded construction projects cleared the House in 213-140 party-line vote.

The prevailing wage rate is the average wage paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in the county or area of employment.

Opponents said the law forces contractors to pay wages set by bureaucrats rather than wages dictated by the free market.

“Compliance will be extremely burdensome if not impossible for New Hampshire municipalities,” said Rep. Jonathan Mackie, R-Meredith. “Passage of this bill could jeopardize the state’s ability to implement the 10-year highway plan.”

Rep. Donald Bouchard, D-Manchester, said the bill will put all contractors on a level playing field and ensure that the workforce on public projects is “the best trained, best equipped and best managed.”

Hygiene products

A bill to make menstrual hygiene products available at no cost in all gender-neutral or female bathrooms in public middle and high schools passed the House, 211-135, with five Republicans joining Democrats. Six Democrats voted against the bill.

Supporters of the bill said inability to obtain pads or tampons leads to what they called “period poverty,” in which female students from low-income households miss school days during menstruation.

Opponents supported the intention of the bill, but said requiring school districts to cover the cost amounted to an unfunded mandate.

The bill encourages districts to “seek grants or partner with a non-profit or community-based organization to fulfill this obligation.”

Casino bill

The annual effort by Sen. Lou D’Allesandro to bring two full-service casinos to New Hampshire failed again in the House of Representatives, 289-63. No one spoke in support of bill, even though it passed the Senate, 13-11.

“There may have been a time when casinos made sense for New Hampshire, but that time has come and gone,” said Rep. Willis Griffith, D-Manchester.

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