March 27 is Crossover Day in the NH legislature. It’s the day when the House turns over their bills to the Senate, and the Senate returns the favor. This year there was so much delay and obstructionism that there was some doubt as to whether the deadline would actually be met. The House had 2 voting session days throughout the month of March, and the Speaker threatened to add a third session day on March 27.
It is difficult to know what the obstructionist’s goal is in holding everything up. They aren’t doing the People’s business. They aren’t enacting legislation, or doing what is best for the state. They are wasting taxpayer dollars and treating their colleagues with a glaring lack of respect. They get all caught up in the drama of it; adult sized boys, buzzing around the chamber for whispered consultations and making “secret” signals from the sidelines. These aren’t votes they can win - the goal is just to slow the process down as much as possible. As I’ve said before, this is what you get when you elect people who hate government to BE the government.
There were 13 roll call votes on the March 12 session day. Two of them concerned a mandatory headlight use bill. That bill was debated for 2 hours, even though everyone in the chamber knew it wasn’t going anywhere. The whole process did, at least, amuse the New York Times reporter I was sitting next to. A bill regulating the use of alkaline hydrolysis as a means of disposing of human remains provided a stage for Rep. Jordan Ulery to leap upon and very dramatically describe the process of alkaline hydrolysis to the few legislators who stayed in the chamber. The same bill had been proposed last year. This wasn’t new information, but when gumming up the works is the goal, no corpse must be left un-described. No one was going to be forced to dispose of a dead person this way unless they wanted to, but the loudest believers in freedom and liberty only seem to do so when its convenient for them. If a free gun came with alkaline hydrolysis, they’d be lining up around the block to throw Granny into the chamber.
There was also a lengthy debate that same day on repealing the death penalty. To the credit of all, that was mostly an intelligent and respectful debate. Most of our Carroll County delegation voted for repeal, and the bill passed the House. By the time you read this, the Senate Judiciary Committee will have had a public hearing on the bill. NH has spent $7 million so far on the death penalty case of Michael Addison, and we’re nowhere near done. The death chamber hasn’t been built. The drugs – Europe won’t sell us the drugs any more, because we’re barbarians. We don’t know what kind of drugs we’ll be using, or how much they’ll cost. Expect the entire shebang to tally up to near $20 million. Remember that, as you drive down East Conway Road. Assuming you return from that voyage be sure to ask Representatives Chandler, Buco, and McConkey where the money’s going to come from to execute that one guy.
Speaking of warm and fuzzy, a truly significant piece of legislation was recently passed and signed into law by the governor. Medicaid expansion will ensure that many low-wage workers in the North Country will have access to health insurance. A report recently issued by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute found that Coos County is the least healthy county in NH. Carroll County wasn’t far behind. In both Coos and Carroll, 17% of the population is uninsured. In both Coos and Carroll 18% of the population engages in excessive drinking. In Coos 18% of the population is in fair or poor health. The ratio of patients to mental health providers is 932:1. There is 7.7% unemployment in Coos, and 23% child poverty. In Carroll County there is 20% child poverty, and 17% of residents have severe housing problems. In Grafton County, 15% of the population is uninsured.
The bill originated in the NH Senate, where our own Senator Jeb Bradley was a supporter. The vote in the House fell largely – but not entirely – along party lines. There were a few Republicans who voted for people over ideology. Not many, but there were a few from the North Country. One of the conservative talking points suggested that “those people” would have no incentive to work if they got “free” health care. Most of us know how hard people work up here just to stay afloat. Affordable health care isn’t going to pay their rent or put groceries on the table. It may well make the difference between preventative care and expensive “I waited because I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor” kind of care.
Given the dire situation in the North Country, it was depressing (though unsurprising) to learn that our newly minted Executive Councilor, Joe Kenney, voted against approving Medicaid Expansion. In other words, one of his first acts in office was to vote against the best interests of nearly 50% of the population in his district. Ray Burton would not have voted that way, but then, Ray was often described as the “champion of the north country,” a sobriquet that will never be applied to Joe Kenney.
Everyone should spend a session day at the State House to witness the full spectacle. The General Court website has streaming audio on session days, which I encourage folks to listen to, but it is not the same as being there to see all of the sideline drama. I’m pleased to report that no one from the Carroll County delegation is a major player in Obstructionist Theater, but all of you really should go see your representatives in action. It might well change the way you vote in November.
© sbruce 2014
Published in the 4-4-14 issue of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper