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: 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

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What, Me Worry?

The November elections brought many changes, and for many of us, brought hope for a new national conversation about health care. Most working folks understand that we have a national health care crisis – that our cobbled together privatized system leaves out approximately 47 million Americans. Most people, even some politicians think this is wrong – but not all, apparently. Recently our very own NH Senator leaped into the fray, telling business leaders, “There is no solution.” This astounding quote appeared in the December 3, Concord Sunday Monitor, in the “Capital Beat” section. In it, the Monitor reports that Senator John Sununu had met with economic development leaders and told them not to waste time worrying about the cost of health care. He told them they’d be better off putting their energy elsewhere. Indeed, why should he worry? As a federal employee he has a fine health insurance plan. He’s been in office long enough so he won’t ever have to worry about it. Worry is for the common folks! One can only assume that this blithe disregard for a serious issue will come back to bite him right in the assume when he runs for re-election in 2008.

When Senator Sununu runs for re-election, you may wonder, who will be funding his campaign? Any time spent searching at is always quality time. At opensecrets you can find out who gets money from what organizations, PACS, zip codes, and so on. You can see copies of candidate financial disclosure forms. It’s a very helpful place, filled with all kinds of interesting facts for your perusal. A look through Senator Sununu’s section at opensecrets reveals that his top business donor since he entered Congress in 1996 is securities and investment. In second place for business contributions is the insurance industry. It’s no wonder he’s so sure the solution to our health care problems lies in the open market – the open market funds his campaign – even in non-election years. So far, this year, the insurance industry has given Senator Sununu $322,500. He’s not even running for office till 2008. In contrast, the pharmaceutical industry are cheap buggers, they’ve only given him $92,999 so far this year. Maybe that’s the payback he gets for not voting for the Medicare Modernization Act, which gave us Medicare Part D.

I was interested to learn that the Senator’s top metro area contributions come from New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Houston, and Lowell. He receives generous contributions from the Bedford and Rochester areas, but his top dollars are mostly coming from out of state. What does all of this mean? Well, one thing I’m sure of is that he gets a boatload of money from the insurance industry. Does all of that hard cash have an impact on his positions and his voting? I’m betting that if I donated $300,000 to his campaign that I’d have his full attention, and plenty of it, just about any time I wanted it.

There has never been a better time to consider how we fund elections. It’s time for us to change the money market, so that we don’t wind up with an endless succession of Sununus – privileged scions of wealthy families, who have never had to live in the real world, where health insurance is enormously expensive, and housing costs are the 7th highest in the nation. I urge you to check out the website at . Just $6 is the project of Americans for Campaign Reform, and their honorary chairpersons are: Bill Bradley, Warren Rudman, Bob Kerrey, and Alan Simpson. For only $6 each, we could publicly fund all federal elections, and eliminate the big money contributions from special interests. This project was born right here in NH, and rumor has it that it will be going national in the next year or so. Please check out their website, and add your support to the growing move to take the big money (and influence) out of our democratic process.

Senator Sununu isn’t a terrible guy. He did vote against the terrible Medicare Modernization Act. He voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment. He voted against extending the Patriot Act. These were all good votes, and prove that he can break party ranks on occasion. Still, I find myself astounded that he would willingly become the Alfred E. Neuman of NH – what me, worry?

If the open market had a solution, we’d know about it. There’s a reason why so many other countries have universal health care plans. There’s a reason why pharmaceuticals are cheaper in those countries. We’re getting fleeced, told we have the finest health care system in the world, and getting fleeced some more. Who benefits? Insurance companies are recording record profits. Their CEO’s are raking in the big bucks, too. UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire enjoyed a salary of $135. 47 million. (Poor guy had to resign over a stock option timing problem.) Poor John Rowe of Aetna only made $57.49 million, and at a paltry $42.13 million, Edward Hanway of Cigna must be ready to apply for food stamps.

This much is certain – you and I are not benefiting from this – not even a little. As long as we don’t worry about it – nothing will change, and that, friends, is what the insurance industry and Senator Sununu are counting on.

“In the future, we’ll all have 15 minutes of fame, and 15 minutes of health care.” Nicole Hollander