CONCORD ó Though its final report isn't due on Gov. Chris Sununu's desk until later this year, the state's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion has released legislative and budgetary recommendations in hopes they'll be addressed by the Legislature this session.
The recommendations include enactment of a state statute that prohibits discrimination against students in public schools, the amendment of statutes in regard to gender identity, establishment of a committee to study sustainable state funding for in-state public transportation, increase of funding to the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, diversity and cultural training in schools, and lastly, the addition of a citizen with a disability to serve on the council going forward.
The council was created by Sununu's executive order in December 2017 that also established a civil rights bureau within the attorney generalís office. He picked Rogers Johnson, chairman of the Seacoast NAACP, to head the council, which has members from various sectors and organizations around the state. The council has held 14 public and targeted listening sessions across the state in Claremont, Concord, Conway, Dover, Durham, Keene, Laconia, Lancaster, Manchester, Nashua, Newmarket and Portsmouth.
The council heard from residents around New Hampshire about how discrimination and bias manifests in their daily lives, and the obstacles people of various identities face in the Granite State. The council's charge is to make recommendations to the governor in order to make New Hampshire a more comfortable and welcoming place for all people.
Later this year, the council will prepare a full report to summarize and present its complete findings, and make any related recommendations.
The council was initially formed after incidents of bias emerged in different communities, including a near-hanging of a biracial boy in Claremont. It was recently announced that Johnson will consult with the Dover School Department following the emergence last month of a video of a high school classroom where students sang a Ku Klux Klan "jingle" for an assignment on the Reconstruction Era.
"This says that we recognize there is a need to do the diversity instruction in the various school districts," Johnson said. "There is a glaring, clarion call for this to happen. These incidents keep happening. I don't know how you can explain it otherwise. The way to stop this, to mitigate this, is to start this process of diversity instruction throughout the schools."
Johnson said the council expects to hold three more listening sessions this year, likely in Concord, Plymouth and Lebanon/Hanover.
In a statement Tuesday, Sununu said, "I would like to thank the Council on Diversity and Inclusion for their extensive work over the past year. I look forward to reviewing their recommendations and to seeing the Council continue their work to ensure that New Hampshire is a place where every person, regardless of their background, has an equal and full opportunity to pursue their dreams and make a better life for themselves and their families."