Crossover day for the NH legislature is April 4. That’s the day that the bills the Senate bills go to the House and vice versa. The House is lagging behind, especially after one session day was cancelled due to a storm. This week the House had the usual session day on Wednesday, but added an additional session on Thursday. The House calendar warns that this may occur next week as well. There is still much to deal with, and there are a number of bills that require much public peacocking and posturing on the part of the minority party.
During the House session on March 13, there were 14 roll call votes. A roll call vote is expensive. The individual votes of each representative are published on the General Court website, as well as on paper. I’ve been quoted anywhere from $1000 to $3000 as a cost for a roll call vote. The House Republicans called for 13 of last week’s 14 roll call votes. They heavily used roll call votes during the last biennium, too. Why? Because the Tea Party/Free State/Bircher wing of the NH GOP want those votes on record so that they can use them against candidates (from both parties) in the upcoming election. In other words, our tax dollars are helping to fund the NH GOP campaigns of 2014. At $1000 per roll call, that’s $14,000 we the people spent last week on roll call votes. This is legal, of course, but make no mistake, this is what they’re doing with all of the roll call votes. It may be legal but it’s also questionable – so please, ask those questions.
The March 20th voting session ended with 13 roll call votes. There might well have been more, but the posturing around what became the last vote of the day took up so much time that there just wasn’t any time left for more.
The first big bill to be heard was HB 271, a bill sponsored by former Speaker O’Brien, to block expansion of the Medicaid program in NH. This is part of the Affordable Health Care Act, that bizarre attempt to make sure that everyone in the richest country in the world has access to health care. Representative O’Brien had a lot to say on the subject, including, “the free market should find solutions,” and “We can do better for our poor and near poor. Private solutions are the answer.” We’ve been in this mess with health care now for decades, and the free market has failed. I can’t be the only person in the state who remembers SB110 – the bill that was going to give us increased competition amongst insurance companies and lower costs. Instead, the same old insurance companies jacked up the rates in the North Country because of all of the dangerous jobs. There was no increased competition, and there never will be. The entire population of our state is less than that of a major metropolitan city. There’s not enough money to be made here for the insurance monopolies to bother with. As for “we can do better for our poor and near poor,” why haven’t you?
Rep. Sherman, a physician from Rye, said that the uninsured have a 40% higher chance of death. He told a story about a working poor and uninsured patient who can’t afford the treatment she needs to treat her Hepatitis C. Representative John Burt asked Rep. Sherman if he would benefit financially from the Medicaid expansion, to audible groans from the House floor. (Civility? In very short supply.) The bill was voted down. Almost immediately, Rep. Al Baldasaro tweeted, “Hold on to your wallets.” Given that he called for several roll call votes during the session, his concern for the wallets of NH taxpayers appears to be capricious at best.
There was a roll call vote on HB 454 (called for by Baldasaro), a bill requiring the consent of homeowners prior to installation of smart meters. The committee found the bill inexpedient to legislate, but the wearers of tinfoil tricorne hats seem to regard smart meters as a part of Agenda 21 or some other sinister plot.
The tricorne hat brigade didn’t like HB 242, either, a bill to change the NH standards for child safety restraints. Free Stater Dan McGuire asked for a roll call vote on this bill. Baldasaro immediately tweeted (after the bill passed) that this was NANNY STATISM. Oddly, it’s never nanny statism when it comes to regulating women’s reproductive decisions.
The bill to increase the tobacco tax (HB 659) by 20 cents was hotly contested. Some of you will remember that the tobacco tax was slashed last biennium, and as a result, the state lost over $10 million in revenue. There was a lot of angst on behalf of the poor. Rep. Laurie Sanborn said, “This tax takes money from low income families!” The same low-income families she voted against expanding Medicaid coverage for, less than an hour earlier. (The message to the poor of NH is clear: smoke! Die!) There was much concern for the businesses of NH, because apparently cheap cigarettes are the very basis of our state economy. There was no concern expressed by the extremists for the lost revenues from last biennium. Those roll call votes don’t pay for themselves, Al Baldasaro.
Rep. Ames from Jaffrey inserted a little clarity into the dialogue, by pointing out that NH would still have the lowest cigarette tax in New England AND no sales tax. There was a roll call vote, and the increase was passed 193-167.
The House also passed HB 573, the medical marijuana bill. Rep. Wright from Tuftonboro spoke very honestly about his wife’s breast cancer, and what a boon this would be to her, and other sick people in our state. It’s never easy to speak about deeply personal issues in public, and I thank Rep. Wright for his bravery. With yet another roll call vote, the bill passed: 286-64. This is the fifth time medical marijuana has passed the House. Perhaps, this time it will be signed into law. Treating our sick and dying people nearly as well as we treat our sick and dying pets would be a big step forward.
Last week, I sat in the gallery on session day with a woman who had never been there before. The blaring horns, the Sergeant-at Arms bellowing for “ROLL CALL” or “DIVSISION VOTE” were all new experiences for her. That’s true for many, if not most NH residents. Everyone should go and spend a day observing our elected officials doing the People’s business. Otto von Bismarck famously said: “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” Otto’s understandable squeamishness aside, we all need to pay more attention to the sausage makers of our state.
© sbruce 2013
Published as an op-ed in the March 22 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper