On Wednesday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court delivered the state’s public employees a staggering blow by reversing a prior Superior Court ruling regarding the constitutionality of legislative changes allowing the state to increase the employees’ contribution rate to the NHRS.
This was the Court’s first decision in the lawsuits we have filed as a result of changes to the NHRS stemming from the legislature’s 2011 amendment to RSA 100-A:16. The case, called the PROFESSIONAL FIRE FIGHTERS OF NEW HAMPSHIRE & a. v. STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE & a., was brought forward by the NH Retirement Coalition of which SEA, SEIU Local 1984 is a member. The case specifically addresses the matter of the legislature requiring public employees’ pension contributions to be increased. Even though the Firefighters are the only group referenced in the title, the SEA, SEIU Local 1984, along with other labor organizations that represent NH public employees, is included in the suit.
The NH Superior Court had ruled that the state was not able to take such action because making such changes was a violation of contract between the state and the employee. They found this to be unconstitutional. The state appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Wednesday’s decision stated, “On appeal, the State argues, among other things, that the trial court erred by ruling that NHRS members have a contractual right to a fixed contribution rate. We agree.”
They also said “the narrow question before us is whether, by enacting RSA 100-A:16, I(a), the legislature unmistakably intended to establish NHRS member contribution rates as a contractual right that cannot be modified. We hold that it did not.
Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s ruling that the 2011 amendment to RSA 100-A:16, I(a) violated the Contract Clauses of the State and Federal Constitutions.”
We believe the Superior Court got it right and this Supreme Court decision is wrong.
We still have a number of other lawsuits in line for decision. We will continue to provide time, resources and energy to see each case through to the end. We have fought long and hard and we will not give up.
It is important to remember that legal decisions are open to interpretation. We do not know how the Court will find in the other cases. And, we do not know how some legislators who are bent on gutting public employees’ pensions will interpret the decision. To offer different scenarios would be totally supposition on our part. What we do know with certainty is this was a rotten decision for all public employees.
So What Do We Do?
The only permissible appeal is to challenge the accuracy of the facts of the case. The Court did not make any errors in fact regarding the case; so, further litigation at this time does not make sense.
We know there are legislators who are determined to “reform” the NHRS. Even though O’Brien is not the Speaker of the House, there are like-minded politicians who will likely seize the moment and attempt more damaging legislative changes to NHRS.
We need your help in continuing to fight this battle. We can’t afford for any member to sit on the sidelines. If you’ve never been involved before, this is the time to step up.
We will be scheduling a special meeting in January to hear from you. All members will be invited to help plan our strategy going forward. We want to listen to you about what, when, and how you want to proceed. Together we will develop our plan to hold onto the money and benefits that are ours. The legislature is not making decisions about the state’s money – this is our money; money we contributed over the years. We cannot allow further raids on our chance for a dignified retirement after providing years of public service.
We will be announcing a date, time and location for this meeting soon. Please stay tuned and please get involved. If there ever was a time – this is it.