Thursday, December 28, 2006

The 2007 Legislative Session Begins



The NH legislature will be back in session on January 3, 2007. The new session begins with the Democrats holding the majority of seats in both the House and Senate. A number of new legislators will be learning the ropes. Committee Chairmanships have been shuffled, office spaces have been reassigned. Presumably the parking space wars go on.
A visit to the General Court will reveal over a thousand new bills being proposed in 2007. Most are just tantalizing snippets, since the full text of the bill is not available until it has been officially introduced. Our local legislators (district 1) have been busy – I saw Tom Buco, Ed Butler, and Gene Chandler listed as sponsors of bills, and Carolyn Brown as the co-sponsor of one bill.

This will be a year for hammering out a state budget, which will be a challenge, as always. NH will be losing $19 million in federal funds. In a state averse to collecting revenue, this always means a challenge. This year some of the suggestions include a tax on soda and candy, increasing certain fish and game non-resident license or permit fees, establishing a state owned casino to provide funds for public education, a hike in wild turkey hunting permit fees, a tax on bottled water, a tax on cigarette manufacturers, a user charge for excessive consumption of police services, and my favorite – a bill establishing a study committee on implementing a “bedroom tax” on residential dwellings. At the same time, there are bills that would eliminate the “view” tax from the property tax, and others that would exclude seniors and veterans from the property tax, and another that would exempt retirement funds from the interest and dividends tax. Two bills propose a cut in the business profits and business enterprise taxes. As always – some legislators trying to provide revenue while others try hard to eliminate it. It’s the continual paradox of NH.

As always, there are a number of bills attempting to deal with the rising costs of health care. Apparently our NH legislators didn’t heed Senator Sununu’s recent warning not to worry about it. One bill would “establish a NH health access corporation, continually appropriating a special fund, and allowing the healthy kids corporation to cover adults.”
Another would establish a commission to study a single payer system for NH. There is also a bill requiring interpretation services (upon request) for people seeking medical treatment, and a bill that would allow for medical use of marijuana.

There are even more than the usual number of bills proposing changes in the voter laws. Naturally, there is the usual GOP effort to make voting even more difficult, by attempting to mandate photo ID’s must be shown to obtain a ballot, several bills relating to the order of names on ballots, and a bill that would eliminate same day voter registration. The same sponsors that want photo ID at the polls also want all forms of ID to indicate citizenship. For decades the Democrats tried to eliminate straight ticket voting, but the GOP resisted, since it was one of their many tools to ensure one party rule. This year it backfired, and bit them in the behind, with numerous straight ticket votes being cast for Democrats. Suddenly, straight ticket voting is a bad thing, according to some Republicans. Keeping their promise, there are at least 2 bills (sponsored by Democrats) that would eliminate straight ticket voting.

There are also a number of bills around civil union and marriage. One proposed bill calls for NH to recognize marriage as being between one man and one woman, which is already state law, and therefore, more than a little redundant. It was proposed by a divorced legislator. A pity these same legislators aren’t more concerned with the failure of heterosexual marriage. Another bill calls for medical coverage for domestic partners, which is sound policy. As for civil union – separate but equal is not equal.

On the surface, some proposed bills make a lot of sense. Establishing a housing commission seems a good idea, as does raising the minimum wage. Permitting adoption by two unmarried adults in a familial relationship seems sensible, as well. Creating an environmental policy for NH seems so sensible, that I despair that it hasn’t been done before now. A bill prohibiting NH from participating in a national ID card system is back again, this year. You may recall that a similar bill passed the House last year, but was killed in the wimpy Senate. Another bill would give the governor and state senators a four year term. I’m in agreement about the governor’s seat. The two year term makes for endless campaigning and fundraising. The governor should be freed up to devote more time to the people’s business.

Some bills seem just kind of bizarre. One calls for repealing the incorporation of the NH Bar Association. Another would require that court ordered courses for DWI offenses be available online. What a great idea – one could take the course in the privacy of one’s own home, just sitting down and relaxing over a beer or two. One bill would revoke the driver’s license of students who drop out of school. Another brilliant idea – make sure the kid can’t get to work. That won’t cause any problems or expenses for communities. Without the full text, some of these bills are cryptic indeed. “Relative to the oaths required of public officers.” We can only wonder at what that might entail, or why it is important. Another that mildly concerns me is “relative to access to toilet facilities in public places.” Hopefully the sponsor is in favor of toilet facilities in public places.

The NH General Court website: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/ie/ is a useful tool, and one that everyone should bookmark. As these bills are introduced, the full text will be there for us to examine. There’s even an option for streaming audio when the House/Senate are in session, so that you can listen in. There are also guided historical tours of the NH State House, and there’s room in the gallery to sit and watch the action unfold. I realize not everyone can take a mid-week day off to go hang out in Concord, but if you can – I heartily recommend it. We the people should be watching what happens in our house. See you in Concord!

“Man is the only animal that laughs and has a state legislature.” Samuel Butler

3 comments:

Herb said...

Susan the Bruce,

Great information for us NH news and government affairs junkies. I will check your blog regularly through Bill Siroty's NH NewsLinks.

susanb said...

Thanks Herb!

Anonymous said...

"exempt retirement funds from the interest and dividends tax". What does this mean? I thought pensions and IRA etc were already exempt...