CONCORD, N.H. —
It’s a case of finger-pointing on both sides, and the stakes were anything but trivial.
But the bottom line is that on Monday, Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law a bill that would provide about $6 million in state funding to add 77 positions to the Division of Children, Youth and Families.
Senate Bill 6 apparently became bogged down for several weeks in a stalemate over where the signing should take place and who should be on hand.
The bill, which became law immediately after Sununu signed it, appropriates $2 million for fiscal year 2020 and $4.1 million for fiscal year 2021 for the hiring of a total of 57 child protective service caseworkers. Additional funding of nearly $2.5 million is appropriated for the hiring of 20 DCYF supervisors.
Of the grand total of $8.6 million in funding, $6 million is state general funds, with the remainder in federal funds.
The bill received final passage from the House on May 2 and was enrolled on May 8.
Why did it take 32 days for the bill to become law? Its signing triggered the posting of the first round of new positions for what everyone agrees is currently an overburdened staff.
Republicans are blaming Democratic Senate President Donna Soucy, Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes and Sen. Jon Morgan, the bill’s chief sponsor. Democrats are blaming Sununu.
Democrats accuse Sununu of refusing to have the bill signing in Morgan’s district, with Morgan present. Instead, they said, Sununu scheduled an event in Conway, where neither Morgan nor any of the Senate Democratic co-sponsors live and none of them represent.
Republicans accuse Soucy of delaying signing off on the bill and sending it to the governor’s office for political reasons.
The governor sent Soucy and House Speaker Steve Shurtleff an open letter on May 24 calling for her to sign off. The state Republican Party followed by posting online an “SB 6 Delay Clock,” counting the days, hours, minutes and seconds the bill was in what they called “legislative limbo.”
Democrats responded with a timeline from their perspective, which they said showed they did not hold up the bills for a month.
They say the bill was signed by Shurtleff on May 14 and forwarded to the Senate. They say the Senate staff called and then emailed the governor’s office to coordinate planning for a bill signing ceremony. But there was no response until May 21, when the governor’s office contacted the Senate to propose a ceremony in Conway three days later.
Meanwhile, a companion bill, Senate Bill 14, strengthening the delivery of services by DCYF, was delivered by the secretary of state’s office to Shurtleff on May 31. He signed it immediately and sent it to the Senate – and Soucy signed both bills on Monday.
“Together, SB 6 and SB 14 represent the biggest step forward our state has made in a generation for the well-being of New Hampshire’s children,” Soucy said. “I am grateful for the leadership of Sen. Morgan and Sen. Feltes, and all the advocates, on these crucial initiatives."
“It’s past time to finally implement a comprehensive children’s system of care to prevent the mistreatment of children and advance children’s mental health, and that’s exactly what SB 14 does,” said Feltes, prime sponsor of SB 14. “This bill is a cost-effective, proactive proposal that will address the critical needs of our children in a timely manner, thereby reducing significant health, special education, hospital and child protection costs down the road.”
Sununu signed them a few hours later.
Democrats note that Sununu originally proposed 62 new positions but provided funding for only 26 of them, proposing that the remaining positions be funded with excess dollars with the approval of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee.
The governor’s office said the approach would allow the positions to be funded as the positions are filled and the money is needed. Democrats criticized that approach.
The House bumped up the number of positions to be funded to 51; the Senate increased it to 77 – and the House agreed with the change. The funding is contained in the Senate version of the two-year budget.
Sununu’s office, announcing Monday that he had just signed the bills, said the signing “comes after a month of waiting on Senate leaders, who had previously withheld the bills for unknown reasons.”
The governor signed the bills at a Department of Health and Human Services district office in Laconia “in an effort to recognize the hardworking frontline workers at the Division for Children, Youth, and Families,” according to a statement by the governor’s office.
“Reforming and rebuilding our child welfare system has been a priority of my administration since day one,” said Sununu. “The funding for these bills takes effect immediately. They build upon the progress made last year, which will help our state’s most vulnerable children, DCYF’s frontline workers and the families of New Hampshire who are counting on us to get it right.”