Friday, June 24, 2016

Working As Planned

Two weeks ago I wrote about the legislature being called back for a special vote on a bill to give law enforcement an extra $1.5 million to deal with the opium crisis. To recap: The original bill, SB 485, failed to pass because a non-germane amendment concerning state employee health care was tacked on, to ensure that it wouldn’t pass. It didn’t. By one vote. The Governor wanted it to pass. House and Senate leadership wanted it to pass. Law enforcement wanted it to pass.

And so, a bipartisan group got together, eliminated the poison pill amendment, and wrote a new bill, HB 1000. The House and Senate were called back in to vote on it. Some representatives were very unhappy at being called back. They were so unhappy that they spent two hours debating whether to suspend the rules in order to vote on the bill. The legislative session began at 10. They didn’t begin discussing the bill till after the lunch break.
The vote was 241-97 to suspend the rules. It’s a small group of GOP miscreants who continually obstruct and delay, but they’re incredibly effective at wasting the time of their colleagues. They made a big point of asking the Speaker if leadership could vote without fear of retribution. It was the last day of this session, what did they think he going to do to them? Change the combo on their locker? Take their lunch money?  Send them to detention?

This voting session came into being because of a non-germane amendment.  To illustrate their displeasure, the libertea faction proceeded to propose 7 non-germane floor amendments to HB 1000. Most were an attempt to add in the language of bills that had already failed or been vetoed. Rep. JR Hoell, for whom guns appear to provide his sole reason for living, put forth a floor amendment to add on a provision that would repeal the requirement for a concealed carry license. Another amendment would have allowed stores to sell syringes without a prescription. Yet another would have allowed towns that have no public schools to use public funds to send children to private religious schools. All seven of the non-germane amendments failed by wide margins, but did succeed in wasting hours of everyone’s time.

Eventually HB 1000 passed by a vote of 235-74. They moved on to attempt to overturn the governor’s veto of six bills. The first prohibited the confiscation of firearms and ammo during a state of emergency. This has never happened in New Hampshire. It was proposed in New Orleans during the aftermath of Katrina, but that story has been twisted by the NRA to get the gundamentalists up in arms, which isn’t exactly a challenge. They’re easily manipulated. (One can only imagine their disappointment in the fact that Obama never even tried to take their guns away, after 8 years of caterwauling about it.)  The veto override failed. So did the attempt to override the veto on the bill repealing the concealed carry license requirement, so that bill failed twice in one day. The override of the bill to use public funds for private religious schools failed. All six override attempts failed.

The last debate concerned an entry in the House journal. Every voting session day begins with an “invocation” which is another way of saying prayer. The prayer was edited in the print version, as many things are. All of the “umms” spoken in a speech are edited out. The minister made reference to “children, born and unborn” in his prayer, and that was truncated to “children.” There’s also a tradition of editing overly sectarian or politically charged language in favor of more neutral language in the permanent record. Fetus fetishist Warren Groen took exception to this editing, and made a fuss. You may remember Warren Groen as the representative who made the fetus speech to fourth graders visiting the legislature who proposed making the red tailed hawk the state bird. The vote to amend the journal passed by a narrow margin, after an hour long debate that began at 4 p.m.

I’m in favor of transparency. If inflammatory, foolish, or reactionary statements are made, they should be included in the permanent record, where the public can see them and hold the makers of the statements accountable for them. Legislative sessions should not be opened with prayers. It is a tradition that should be eliminated. The 400 members of the House do not all share the same religion – and even if they did, their religion should have no sway in the public affairs of our state. No religion should. If there’s a need to fill a hole in the ritual, read a poem. Some Walt Whitman would be nice.

Over in the Senate, the vote to suspend the rules slid right through on a voice vote. No floor amendments. HB 1000 passed unanimously.

HB 1000 passed largely because it’s an election year and most legislators did not want to be seen as voting against law enforcement during an opioid crisis. Whether this is a good use of funds is debatable. In this case, because it’s an election year, perception is everything.

A number of long time representatives are leaving the legislature because of the obstructionist crowd. The endless roll call votes and procedural delays are working exactly as planned.

Published as an op-ed in the June 24 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Thursday, June 09, 2016

But Wait, There's More!

The legislative session was over. We thought last week would be the end, till it was time for veto override attempt day.

We were wrong. The legislature will be back on June 16. One of the bills that had a non-germane amendment tacked on to it has the governor and the House and Senate leadership feeling a little cross. SB 485: An Act establishing a state grant program to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in addressing the opioid crisis and making an appropriation therefor, relative to the health care premium contribution for retired state employees who are eligible for Medicare Parts A and B due to age or disability, relative to funding of retiree health benefits, and making an appropriation to the department of administrative services.

This bill began life as a bill to fund law enforcement agencies in dealing with the opioid crisis. The funding amounted to $1.5 million for law enforcement. The amendment to mess with the retired state employee health care was tacked on much later.

The bill sailed through the committee of conference, but it failed to clear the House. By ONE vote. 159-160. The libertea crowd was peeved about giving money to law enforcement. The Democrats were peevish about Republicans messing with state employee health plans. It was enough to ensure the bill didn’t pass.

Law enforcement really wants that money, and Governor Hassan really wants to give it to them. We’ve been losing the war on drugs since Nixon was in the White House but that won’t stop us! We’re still trying to make trickle down economics work, too. I don’t believe that we can enforce our way out of this situation. Enforcement only addresses the symptoms. We aren’t doing anything to figure out the root causes of the drug crisis. (Hint: it’s not the drugs!) We are not a state that engages in self-reflection. We have no interest in planning ahead. All we care about is not raising or spending sufficient money to run our state as if it were a going concern.

After the vote, GOP leadership blamed the Governor for not providing leadership (translation: not caving in to their demands) on retiree health care. No mention of the fact that it was a Republican on the Finance Committee who added the poison pill to the original bill, and they passed the bill with that amendment attached to it. There doesn’t seem to be any awareness on the part of leadership that the libertea faction of their majority hates law enforcement and would rather eat ground glass than give them any money. Easier to blame the governor than look in the mirror.

None of that matters. It’s an election year. People are dying. No one wants to be blamed for not funding solutions, so the bill is going to be stripped of the odious amendment about retired state employee health care plans, and the vote will be taken again on funding law enforcement agencies dealing with the opioid crisis. There will probably be some veto override attempts as well, since they’re going to be in Concord anyhow.

A few months ago, a story came out about State Representative Don Leeman committing voter fraud. Rep. Leeman, a Republican from Rochester, represented Wards 2 and 3 in Rochester. In December he moved into Ward 6. In February, Leeman voted in the NH presidential primary in Ward 3. If he admitted that he was no longer domiciled in that ward, he would have had to resign from the House. Naturally people knew, there was talk, and eventually it became an issue.

The NH Republican party is obsessed with voter fraud. There were numerous bills put forth this session that attempted to somehow define the word “domicile” as meaning “not letting students or other unlikely-to-be-Republicans vote in our state.”

In March, the House Legislative Administration Committee determined that he was no longer qualified to represent his district, since he no longer lived in it. Here was a clear-cut case of voter fraud. Guy lives in one ward, moves to another, deliberately votes in first ward – that’s fraud. This was a chance for the fraud obsessed majority party to take action! A chance for them to put their principles into practice!

A letter from a new landlord was magically produced, some tap dancing was done, incantations were chanted, and Leeman was deemed able to keep his seat, because he lived in his district again. His domicile dance was deemed “temporary.” The fact that Leeman fraudulently voted in the primary was swept under the rug. Here was their chance to make an example of one of their own – which would have been a bold and powerful statement – and they blew it. They couldn’t act on principle, because you can’t act on what you don’t possess.

The March 9 Union Leader editorial was filled with finger wagging about voter fraud, acknowledging that Leeman committed it, blaming Democrats (just because) and congratulating Leeman for keeping his seat. Other than a big lump in the carpeting, that seemed to be the end of the story.

Last week, Leeman was arrested on charges of bribery and witness tampering. House leadership may have swept Leeman’s conduct under the rug, but the AG’s office took it seriously, and did what they were supposed to do, investigate. He’s accused of trying to induce an employee of the Rochester Housing Authority to provide a letter with false statements regarding his move. He’s accused of offering that same employee a bribe from the Knights of Columbus (he’s a member) in order to expedite a transfer to another apartment in his House district.

Leeman claims he did not commit voter fraud, because his intent was to move back into his district. Yet even though that magical letter from a new landlord was produced, he continues to live in Ward 6. He never moved. He did, however, resign from the House days before his arrest, which he claims is a mere coincidence.

Leeman says he’ll be exonerated, and he’ll bring charges against those falsely accusing him. He also intends to run for the House again, to represent Rochester’s Ward 6.

Published as an op-ed in the June 10 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Legislative Legerdemain

Every legislative session starts with most of our legislators displaying at least a modicum of dignity and good manners. Most years that doesn’t begin to break down until the last month or so when it’s time to concur or not concur on amended bills.

This year the breakdown began early. As part of the House committee process, a member of the committee writes up a summary of a bill that is ready to go to the floor for a vote. It will explain what the intent of the bill is, explains any moving parts, the fiscal aspects and gives the committee’s recommendation. There may be a majority report, detailing why the majority of the committee supports or does not support the bill, and a minority report explaining why the minority does or does not believe it should pass. This write up is included in the House calendar. They are generally written with a neutral tone and language.

Not this year. Fellow calendar geeks undoubtedly noticed that a number of committee reports were written in either a sarcastic or self-righteous tone. This was an exceptional year in many respects. The NippleGate scandal was the result of Rep. Josh Moore opining on Twitter that a nipple bared in public was open for grabbing. Rep. Ken Weyler announced his opinion that giving public benefits to anyone practicing Islam is treason. Representative Kyle Tasker brought glory to the GOP when he was arrested at the place where he was supposed to be meeting a 14-year-old girl he’d been soliciting sex from on the internet. He met a cop, instead. More cops found his house full of drugs, and there is reportedly a list of his legislative customers, that may go public at some point. As someone once involved in the informal pharmaceutical trade, let me give ya’ll some advice. One thing you really want in a drug dealer is discretion. Don’t buy drugs from the guy who drops his gun in the State House and is always in the news for saying and doing obnoxious things.

As the legislature winds down, it’s time for shenanigans and deals. Any bill that was amended by either the House or Senate must go back to the body it originated from, where that body votes on whether to concur with the amended version, to non concur which kills the bill, or they can ask for a Committee of Conference. (CoC)

The language from dead or tabled bills can be tacked on to completely unrelated bills (a phenomenon known as the non-germane amendment) in an effort to sweeten the deal or twist arms. Some of the weirder examples include HB 636: relative to forfeiture of property; relative to the sale of premixed synthetic urine; establishing a grant program for high schools for heroin and opiate prevention education; and clarifying who may petition to adopt. Because when you think adoption, you think synthetic urine.

SB 495: relative to the health care premium contribution for retired state employees who are eligible for Medicare Parts A and B due to age or disability, relative to funding of retiree health benefits, making appropriations to the department of administrative services, and relative to the definition of a cigar bar. (One of these things is not like the other.) The goal is to give the other guys something they want, so that they’ll vote for your bill, even though they don’t like it. 

That’s how a bill written to fund the police standards and training council and purchase some state police cars (SB 527) was amended to include a provision about bi-weekly paychecks. The Senate tabled the original biweekly paycheck bill. In the legislature, tabling can also be defined as “saving for future leverage.” In this instance, money for cops and cop cars would not be approved by the anti-cop libertea crowd – but tack on the language from the biweekly paycheck bill that was written and sponsored by a number of libertea restaurant owners, and the cops might get their cruisers. This bill is still in the CoC.

Once in a CoC, the members have to unanimously agree to changes, and everyone has to sign off on the report. The report then goes back to the originating body for an official vote on whether to pass the whole thing or not. If it passes, it will eventually hit the governor’s desk.

Another fun aspect of the Committee of Conference process is that the members of the committee can be changed at any time, depending on the desired outcome.  For example, SB 4 is yet another attempt to solve the nonexistent problem of voter fraud. The bill will require a voter to live in the state for 30 days before being allowed to vote. This is almost certainly unconstitutional, but that does not deter the voter suppression crowd. Wasting money on court challenges just means less money to spend frivolously on things like roads and bridges. The House amended the bill to add some rather pompous language about the intentions of the 1974 Constitutional Convention and the meaning of the term domicile, and the Senate asked for a CoC. A dissenting Senator (Democrat) was replaced by a Republican Senator and suddenly there is agreement! Not because it’s a good or necessary bill, but because it’s partisan jiggery pokery.

Eight voter domicile bills were filed this year. There were 4 concealed carry bills. These are the priorities of the current legislature. They aren’t the priorities of the average voter, but they do reflect the mindset of the ideologues that currently populate the majority party.

There is a link on the House General Court website where you can check out the bills currently in Committees of Conference, and who the members of the committee currently are. A look at the bill’s docket will show any changes in the configuration of the committee.

Legerdemain is defined as “sleight of hand when performing conjuring tricks.” That’s what the end of the legislative session is all about.

Published as an oped in the May 27 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

New Comment Policy

If all you have are gratuitous insults, don't bother. I'm not publishing them anymore. 

Be smart, be witty, be snarky - but above all be interesting. Or be gone. 

The Management 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Living in the Past

Last August about 50 women staged a “Free the Nipple” protest at Hampton Beach. There is a nation-wide movement to desexualize the breast and strike down local, state, and national laws against toplessness. A month later, six women were arrested for being topless on a beach in Guilford. Going topless is a misdemeanor offense for a woman in the state of NH. Driving while impaired is a misdemeanor. You can kill someone while driving drunk. Our state equates the crime of driving while impaired to being topless and female in public.

Clearly something had to be done about those dangerous breasts and the women who might flaunt them in public. State Senator Nancy Stiles of Hampton wrote a bill  (SB 347) to enable the state and municipalities to adopt ordinances regulating attire on state and municipal property. The bill concerned itself largely with regulating bathing, sunbathing, and swimming in municipal or state properties. It was going to be added to a statute that is intended to restrain and punish vagrants, mendicants, street beggars, strolling musicians, and common prostitutes and prevent them from engaging in obscene conduct. The state and municipalities would be allowed to create ordinances to dictate what sort of attire should be worn on state or municipal property. 

One could imagine, perhaps: Tuxedo Thursdays in Tuckerman’s Ravine?  Or maybe Hawaiian shirt day in Crawford Notch? Mendicant Mondays? Naturally every day would be coverall day at Hampton Beach to keep those rampant bosoms out of sight. This would also include the State House, which doesn’t seem to have occurred to the sponsors.

One could further imagine the creation of the Governor’s Commission on Proper Public Attire. What the bill lacks (other than any sort of coherent rationale) was an enforcement mechanism. It needs a Dress Code Czar, which is pretty much my dream job. I’m ready, willing, and able to instruct strolling musicians, common prostitutes and legislators on how to dress.

This bill came to us from Senate Republicans. Republicans, you may recall are the folks who complain so bitterly about what they “nanny state.” Then again, legislating the behavior of women has always been at the heart of the GOP agenda, and is therefore exempt - the accusations of “nanny state” only apply if they affect MEN. This attempt at dressing women in burkas at public beaches is just business as usual. Any idiot can have a gun in this state, but breasts are apparently the REAL danger. Two of the bill’s sponsors are not running for reelection. The rest of the bunch should seriously consider retirement, if this is their idea of important or necessary legislation.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, by the time a child reaches the age of 18, they will have seen over 16,000 simulated murders and over 200,000 acts of violence. And we’re worried about naked bosoms scaring the children?

In the category of actual important legislation, the House will have voted on the omnibus opioid bill (as well as the dress code bill) by the time you read this. The big drug bill is intended to do something about the opioid epidemic that is having such an impact on our state. It is one of the bills that were written last year to be “fast tracked” by the legislature. There is no fast track in NH. (If a provision had been added to give every addict a gun, this would have been passed months ago.) One of the actual provisions of SB 533 is an appropriation for $2 million to the Housing Finance Authority for supportive housing for substance abusers.

This is important. Addiction does not lend itself to cookie cutter solutions. Addicts have a variety of different needs. My second husband became a heroin addict after we split up. He had a good job, a car, and a place to live. When he got to rehab, he had the clothes on his back. No car. No place to live. Holes in his shoes. He still had the job – and lucky for him, he had excellent health insurance. He called me from rehab, because I was the only sober/clean person he knew. His world had narrowed to being populated mostly by other addicts, which is not unusual. He stayed clean for a while, but relapsed, which is common with any drug addiction. The second time, he stayed clean. He moved into a sober house when he got back from the second stint at rehab, and he stayed there for a couple of years. Some addicts need to put a lot of distance between the new life they’re trying to begin and the old life they’re trying to get away from.

New Hampshire doesn’t offer much in the way of substance abuse treatment. Supportive housing for people who need a complete change of venue if they’re going to be able to stay clean is crucial. Heroin (and other opioid) addicts can recover and go on to lead productive lives, despite what one sees in the comment section of the Union Leader. Unfortunately most people know very little about addiction, and that includes most of our legislature. We weren’t overly concerned about addicts until the children of the middle class started dying.

A disappointing aspect to all of the bills intended to deal with the opioid crisis is the heavy emphasis on law enforcement solutions. At the beginning there was a lot of talk about how NH couldn’t arrest its way out of the problem. That is still true, yet our legislature is determined to try. The war on drugs, the pledge, and trickle down economics are all failing our state, but we are unable to end our addiction to living in the past.

Edited to add:

Every story I read about the Free the Nipple events was incorrect. The NH media didn't do a very good job of covering the story. Going topless is not against the law in NH. Only 2 women were arrested in Guilford. I found SB 347 mockworthy for a number of reasons, mostly, because it would have allowed dress codes at every public property. That was and is silly, and deserved to be made fun of. I didn't intentionally spread misinformation - and I'm sorry that I inadvertently did. 

I wasn't writing to be sympathetic to the Free the Nipple activists, because frankly, their issue isn't even on my list. There are many, many things that need to change in women's lives. Homelessness, poverty, health care, equal pay, good jobs, the right to bodily autonomy, and affordable child care are right at the top, along with doing something about guns and violence against women. I find the Free the Nipple "movement" silly and self-indulgent. 

Published as an op-ed in the May 13 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.