Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Right to Work, Again

On January 30, 2013 the NH House Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee heard HB 323, a bill establishing the Franklin Partin right to work act.

The bill was sponsored by former House Speaker (and man without a committee) William O’Brien, Rep. Al Baldasaro, Rep. Mark Warden, and Reps: Boehm, Cebrowski, Kappler, and Comerford. Two out of the seven sponsors are Free Staters. All are Republicans.

This is yet another attempt on O’Brien’s part at passing a right to work law. It was what he wanted more than anything last biennium, and he’s bitter about being thwarted.

As lead sponsor of the bill, O’Brien testified first. He began by giving us the history of Franklin Partin. According to Obie, Franklin Partin came back from serving his country, and got a job he loved. Then somehow whatever this beloved job was became unionized, and poor Franklin Partin had to leave. His religious beliefs prevented him from joining a union. (That’s a Christian denomination I’m unfamiliar with.)

In any case, he was the NH president of Right to Work, and spent years fighting to get a RTW law passed in NH, and that’s why Obie named the bill after him.

Obie tells us that NH will either be left behind in a Northeast that is a forced union part of the country, or join and enjoy the benefits of being a rtw state. Even government workers are leaving unions. (No mention of the cause – they’re losing their jobs). NH is going to become an economic backwater. Our young people are leaving NH – leaving because jobs aren’t being created.

Rep. Flanagan (from the committee) asked Obie about wages in other RTW states. O’Brien did a very elaborate tap-dance around having to answer that question. At one point he said that new jobs are being created that are going to look like low wage jobs, but they really aren’t. HUH?

Flanagan asks for clarification. Bottom line: the jobs being created are low wage jobs, but they’ll get better. In fact, Obie says, NH wages are artificially high, a symptom of stagnation. This may explain why O’Brien has never won a Nobel prize in economics.

Rep. Weed asked O’Brien why he thinks young people are leaving the state. Are high tuitions part of the problem? O’Brien says he hasn’t seen any data on that.

He brought only one copy of his testimony for the committee. There are 20 representatives on the committee.

Next up was Rep. Mark Warden, a Republican and Free Stater. Warden tells us that this is all about freedom of choice! Choice is good for society. He compared this bill to a woman’s right to choose, and to marriage equality. As a liberty guy, he favors choice! He praises those who refuse to be bullied!

As a liberty guy who loves choice, he didn’t do so well in voting to defend women’s choices. He voted to prohibit the state from contracting with Planned Parenthood. He voted to repeal insurance coverage for midwives. He avoided voting on all of the rest of the antiabortion/antiwoman bills that were presented last year. He also avoided voting for the GOP repeal of NH’s marriage equality law. He did vote to allow businesses to discriminate against gay couples. He avoided voting on leaving NH’s marriage equality law in place. When it comes to putting his vote where all that choice is, Brave Sir Robin is an absentee.

Representative Cebrowski is a sponsor because he’s on the Finance Committee, and it breaks his heart every year to listen to the people from various underfunded departments and programs ask for money that we just don’t have. If we pass right to work, our business tax revenues will increase so that we might give “a little” to UNH. Or to fund CHINS. They’re all legitimate needs, and he wants to meet those needs.

Rep. Richardson asked him what percentage of private sector jobs are unionized? Cebrowski didn’t know. The Chairman (Rep. White) asked where on the DRED list of things companies want does RTW fall? They haven’t talked about that, says Cebrowski.

Next up, Al Baldasaro and his stream of consciousness. His father was a union guy in Massachusetts. Back then it was voluntary. Then the Teamsters took over and forced union membership. It is Al’s GOD GIVEN right to make his own decisions about where his money goes. His girlfriend has a job in MA that is union and it’s KILLING HER. We stand for FREEDOM here in NH. We have to open our eyes and take a look at our tax structure! (On that Al and I agree.) This has to do with FREEDOM. A vote against this is a vote against the little guy. His daughter works in Boston. His son works in Maine. His kids won’t come back here because there’s nothing here. But this isn’t about the unions this is about FREEDOM. We have to look out for the little people!

Rep. Kelly from the committee asked him if MA, where his daughter works is a RTW state. He really, REALLY didn’t want to answer that. She asks if Maine, where his son works is an RTW state. Again, he really didn’t want to say no.

Rep. Richardson asked if Baldasaro could give him a list of companies that are waiting in line to see this bill get passed. Al can’t and he’s miffed about it. He’s sure though, that if we give business a reason to come here, they will.

Rep. Weed: “You keep saying this is about jobs. Are you speaking of minimum wage jobs? Are you aware that those states with RTW job growth have low wage jobs?” Baldasaro: Would you prefer to have someone work at Wal-Mart or go to a good paying job? Apparently he’s not aware that Wal-Mart isn’t a union shop.

As for freedom – we all know that Rep. Baldasaro is a huge proponent of freedom for white, heterosexual men.

The hearing went from 9:30 am to 12:15 pm. There was a lot of testimony. I’m going to just hit some of the high points – or the flat out weird parts.

During AFL-CIO President Mark McKenzie’s questioning by the committee Rep. Will Infantine used the phrase “no tickee, no washee.” Will members of the Free State Project call for his censure and impeachment for using racist terminology? Don’t hold your breath!

Former Rep. David Welch was a former union guy in MA. He signed a pledge last session to vote for RTW. Then he learned more about the union presence in NH, and given how small it is, couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. There was no problem in this state with unions, he decided. He pointed out at this hearing that that decision cost him his re-election. “All those emails I got about union thugs…it turns out the thugs weren’t in the unions.”

During his testimony, business owner Jon Bresler asked if there was a single businessperson in the room to testify in favor RTW. There was not.

Pamela Ian compared the fight for right to work to the fight to end slavery. Free Staters don’t fear grandiosity.

John Kalb of the New England Citizens for Right to Work expressed a lot of concern for the little guy. That little guy needs a pay cut, bad.

Rep. Richardson asked Kalb what the percentage of private enterprise in NH with union membership. As it turns out, it’s 4.5%. In his haste to mitigate the damage done by the revelation of how tiny that number is, Mr. Kalb waxed on about the great businesses in this country that aren’t union shops. Businesses like Goldman Sachs.  At that, the visitor section went wild. Goldman Sachs? The derision must have been heard at the Barley House.

It was a long hearing. I learned that low wage jobs are the answer to NH prayers. I learned that “looking out for the little guy,” means ensuring he gets a lousy paycheck. What better way to show you care?  I also learned that those who favor RTW appear to believe that it is a magic unicorn that will, once enacted, bring millions of jobs to our state. The fact that this isn’t true doesn’t concern them. The fact that they would be low wage jobs doesn’t concern them. They see auto jobs going to southern states, and think that it’s RTW that is the cause.

It doesn’t occur to them that southern states have lower energy costs. Better infrastructure. Better access to shipping ports.

If NH passed RTW tomorrow, we’d still have the highest energy costs in the Northeast. We’d still have the 11th worst infrastructure in the nation. We’d still have some of the highest property taxes in the nation. We’d still rank 50th in the nation in state spending on our university system.

It’s not RTW that holds us back. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bills to Increase NH Minimum Wage Heard Today

NH Minimum Wage: HB 127 and HB 241

The two bills were lumped together in a January 29, 2013 hearing in the Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee.

Both bills call for an increase in the minimum wage. Last legislative session, the NH specific minimum wage was eliminated. NH complies with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The federal minimum wage has been increased exactly 3 times in the last 30 years.

HB241 would increase the state minimum wage to $9.25 an hour. HB127 would increase it to $8.00 an hour.

There are some 14,000 minimum wage workers in NH. 78.8% of them are over the age of 20.  Contrary to what many believe, fewer than a quarter of them are teenagers. More than a third of them are married, and over a quarter are parents. These are people who are earning $15,080 annually, if they work a steady 40-hour week.

The number of states (and NH counties) where a min. wage worker can afford a 2-bedroom apartment?  ZERO.

The chances that a minimum wage worker is a woman? 64 in 100.

If minimum wage kept up with increases in CEO pay, it would be over $23 an hour.

It was obvious that some of the committee members as well as those offering testimony today believe that minimum wage is the sole province of teenagers, but the facts from the Economic Policy Institute prove otherwise.

Rep. Shawn Jasper testified (in opposition) on behalf of House GOP leadership. He said that what NH needs is a training wage, and repeated several times that not everyone who is earning minimum wage is living on minimum wage. It is Rep. Jasper’s assertion that no one is worth $8 an hour when they’re 8 years old or even 13. The minimum wage does not help our youth, it does not allow them to push a broom or move up the rungs of the employment ladder. In fact, Jasper asserts, teens are unemployed BECAUSE of the minimum wage. Thanks to the min. wage, those jobs aren’t being created. He reiterated that there are a substantial number of people who do not need to live on the minimum wage.

Quick diversion: an informal poll of my friends with kids shows that teenaged babysitters are earning somewhere between $7 and $10 an hour.

Also, the reason for teen unemployment is simple. There are still millions of adults out of work. The teens are competing with them for jobs. It has nothing to do with minimum wage, and everything to do with what we’re still not calling a depression.

Businessman Steve Grenier of Rye has a seasonal ice cream business. He lives year round on those earnings. He states that he would be adversely affected, and would have to raise his prices. It wouldn’t be fair to the kids who worked their way to higher wages, if new kids came in at this new entry-level minimum wage. His employees are all students.

Representative Daniels from the committee wondered how many of the minimum wage workers are under 18 and still living at home. He also wondered how many are working min. wage jobs as a second job, “just for something to do.” Apparently those who work second jobs don’t merit higher pay.

Chris Williams of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce opposes both bills. He told us of several small businesses that have closed in Nashua recently (which had nothing to do with this, btw) as a warning example of what will happen. Of course, if people earn more, they spend more at those small businesses – but that isn’t factored in to the thinking of business/industry groups and their lobbyists. 

Another thing to consider: if wages don’t go up, than the cost of safety net services do.

Dan Juday (not at all sure of the spelling) of the BIA testified in opposition. This will have a ripple effect on all employers, increasing labor costs across the board. This is why we have outsourcing – because of labor costs. Also, he told us that an increase in minimum wage could bankrupt the unemployment insurance trust fund. This is no time to burden employers with more costs.

Beth Mattingly of the Carsey Institute pointed out that the federal poverty guidelines were developed in the 1960’s, based on the cost of food. They do not factor in the cost of housing or childcare, which are the biggest expenses for today’s working people. A single person would need to earn $9 an hour just to reach the federal poverty guidelines. Naturally, there were other folks there to speak in support of increasing the minimum wage. For me, today, the focus is on those who defend sub-poverty wages.

There are some wage subdivisions in place already. Restaurants are allowed to pay tipped workers substantially less than minimum wage. These are also people who don’t get paid sick days, so they come to work sick, because they have to, and then handle your food. Achoo!

There is a mechanism in place to pay people with developmental disabilities less than minimum wage. The business lobby would love to create a “training wage” in order to pay kids (and probably adults too) slave wages.

Curtis Barry of the Retail Merchants Association described the minimum wage working base as students and “retired people, looking for a little extra money.” Apparently those older people don’t deserve a decent wage, either. Fortunately no one mentioned housewives working for "pin money." 

There was almost no respect expressed for workers at this hearing. That was disheartening. 

I did hear from a bill sponsor that there is a lot of support for an increase in the minimum wage. On behalf of 14,000 NH workers, let’s hope that there will be one. 

Free State Project: Censorship is a Libertarian Value?

From the Concord Monitor

A group of New Hampshire activists wants Rep. Cynthia Chase censured and impeached by her fellow state representatives.
A petition to the House was assembled and signed by 120 people, led by Darryl Perry, a Keene resident and Free State Project participant. It calls for Chase’s censure and impeachment over the comment, which the petition describes as showing “her intent to enact laws to interfere with protected rights” and “harm a specific group of people.”

Rep. Chase's comments are available at the link.

From the Free State Project website:

We are looking for neighborly, productive, tolerant folks from all walks of life, of all ages, creeds, and colors who agree to the political philosophy expressed in our Statement of Intent, that government exists at most to protect people's rights, and should neither provide for people nor punish them for activities that interfere with no one else.

This is a description of the folks they claim they want to move to NH:  Neighborly. Tolerant. Protecting rights.  Sounds mighty high minded, doesn't it?

In reality,the Free Staters are people who bleat about rights 24/7 on internet forums, but it seems they believe THEIR rights are more important than anyone else's. They've been railing on about Rep. Chase for weeks. Not only her words have been attacked, but on those forums they've had plenty to say about her physical appearance. Because of course, that's high minded, tolerant, and neighborly.

Rep. Chase, I hasten to add, has filed NO legislation. She merely expressed an opinion. Apparently the  FSP can't handle freedom of speech, when it is used to speak against them.

Just a reminder: The Original Free State Manifesto, in which FSP founder Jason Sorens explains the intent of the Free State Project in moving to NH:

Once we've taken over the state government, we can slash state and local budgets, which make up a sizeable proportion of the tax and regulatory burden we face every day. Furthermore, we can eliminate substantial federal interference by refusing to take highway funds and the strings attached to them. Once we've accomplished these things, we can bargain with the national government over reducing the role of the national government in our state. We can use the threat of secession as leverage to do this.

This statement of intent has not been nullified. Jason Sorens has never come forth and repudiated his manifesto. Their intent is clear - they're coming to NH to take over the state and eliminate our state government. And furthermore, it seems, if you dare speak out against them, they're going to attack and punish you.

Censorship is an ugly, ugly word. One that has no place in a tolerant society.

That a group preaching freedom and liberty for themselves is willing to use censorship as a weapon against their critics shows them for what they are. Hypocrites.

The cultists are out in full force, all whining to me about how I don't understand the dictionary, and calling me rude names. As it happens, it's the Free State Cult members who are engaging in CENSORSHIP by trying to CENSURE Rep. Chase. Oddly, no one but the cultists have had any trouble understanding my meaning.

Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

NH SB32 - Changes to Selective Service Registration

NH Senate Bill 32 was heard by the Senate Transportation Committee on January 22, 2012.

SB32 is “An Act relative to Selective Service registration upon driver’s license application or renewal.”

The bill’s sponsors are Senators Carson, Cataldo, and Reagan. Also Representatives Lundgren, Notter, and Christiansen.

The current NH driver’s license application has a section labeled Optional. There are 4 boxes an applicant can voluntarily check off. One of them reads,  “I am 18 years old and consent to registration with the Selective Service System as required by Federal Law.”

The application is clear. An applicant can choose to register for Selective Service by checking that box. It is an option.

This is referred to as an “opt-in system.” SB32 would give us the opposite. New drivers would be automatically registered for Selective Service via this form unless they chose to opt out.

The current system does not automatically register young men for Selective Service. The applicants have the choice to do it or not. SB32 presents itself as a choice, when it is not. An applicant would have to opt out, or be automatically registered.

The only person at the hearing who spoke in support of the bill was sponsor Senator Sharon Carson. When asked for the reason behind the bill, Senator Carson said that this change is recommended by the Selective Service Bureau.

Mary Lee Sargent spoke in opposition to the bill. She is opposed to the state automatically registering young men for Selective Service, which deprives them of their autonomy. Sargent said this bill is one more example of the increasing militarization of our society. She also pointed out that the Selective Service registration website lists 4 places to register, and DMV’s are not on that list. Ms. Sargent further pointed out that the current law is working just fine, and sees no reason to change it.

Senator David Watters of the Transportation Committee asked if the federal government requires this. The answer is no. It is merely a suggestion.

The next speaker was Iraq War veteran Will Hopkins. He disagrees that the choice to register should be made for young men by the state – that this is not the job of the state.

Dave Tiffany pointed out that 16 and 17 year olds cannot legally enter into contracts, and wondered who we plan to start a war with that we need an army of conscripts.

Arnie Alpert of the NH American Friends Service Committee noted that the AFSC was originally formed to give conscientious objectors a way to do service projects instead of serving in WWI. He also pointed out that none of the forms have a box to check off to show that they are a conscientious objector. Alpert also said that this is not the job of the NH DMV, and there is no reason why 16 year olds should have their data sent to Selective Service.

Senator Watters of the committee asked if someone fails to register and is denied a federal school loan (one of the penalties for failing to register) is there a process to appeal as a conscientious objector. The answer to that is no, there is not.

Devon Chaffee of the NH ACLU also spoke in opposition to the bill. She sees no need for NH to change the current law, and pointed out that it is not the responsibility of the state to enforce federal law.

Rick Daly of the NH DMV stated that the opt in box on the current form is used only for those 18 years old and older. He also said that the change would require time and resources, but was not sure what the actual dollar cost of that would be. In addition to the changes in the forms themselves, the DMV would be required to notify applicants of the legal ramifications of opting out, something that DMV employees are not currently required to do.

Nor should they be. The state of NH should not be enforcing federal laws.

This is another bill that addresses a non-existent problem. It’s a waste of committee time and taxpayer dollars.

It’s also an underhanded way to sign up young men for Selective Service. The decision to register should be an informed decision, one that a young man talks over with his family, not a decision made for him by the state of NH.

The text of the bill is available here

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Solutions in Search of Problems

The new legislative session is underway at the People’s House in Concord. The last election changed the composition of the NH House, and the difference can be felt as one walks down the hallways. The last legislature was grim and angry.  The halls feel a little lighter this year, and legislators can be seen smiling and sometimes even laughing. 

The legislation that our solons are wading through is another matter entirely. The minority party appears to have decided at some point to gum up the works with bills that aren’t likely to go anywhere. 

Last week, the Election Law Committee heard testimony on HB 143, which would return straight ticket voting to our NH ballots. As voters will recall, prior to 2007, at the top of each ballot was a box one could check off to vote a straight party ticket. There was no need to read the ballot, or do any research into candidates – one could vote on the basis of party affiliation alone. There are members of the minority party who would like to return to that system. This bill is sponsored by GOP Representatives LeBrun, Notter, Peterson, and Rice. 

The testimony consisted of a great deal of concern for voter convenience. Apparently having to read down an entire ballot and fill in all the little ovals is exhausting to the voters. Representative Rice spoke for the sponsors. Rep. Moody from the committee asked him what would happen if someone checked the straight ticket box, and then went down the ballot and voted for a candidate from the other party. He didn’t know. Representative LeBrun handed him a copy of the bill, and did some explaining to him. Twice. Apparently it would not cancel out the vote. Rice compared voting to buying a refrigerator at Home Depot. One gets the basic package, but can choose options.

Representative Peter Schmidt spoke in opposition to the bill. He said that convenience to voters should not be a determining factor in how we vote, that voters should know whom they are voting for. Schmidt reminded those present of the elections in 2010, where so many voted on the basis of party affiliation, and later had cause to regret some of their votes. (Martin Harty, anyone?) 

Convenience was the word of the day, and Rep. Schmidt was not swayed by it. When committee member Rep. Marston stated that as a town moderator he’d often heard from voters of their desire for convenience, Schmidt responded, “Why not send someone to their house with a ballot and a pen and let them vote in bed?” 
This bill does nothing to move NH forward into the future, or solve any of our very real and present problems. It does give insight into the minority party fears that the massive gerrymandering they did last session may not be enough to help them win elections.  It also shows that they have low expectations of both voters and their candidates. GOP voters apparently aren’t smart enough to read and fill in an entire ballot, and their candidates need to be protected from the need to stand up to scrutiny and research. 

HB 121 was heard this week by the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. This bill is sponsored by Representatives LeBrun and Notter. 

HB 121 requires drug testing for all TANF recipients. TANF is the acronym for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. We used to call it “welfare.” TANF benefits are limited to 60 months, over the course of a lifetime. The average time a person stays on TANF is 19 months. It is a welfare to work program. This bill perpetuates the stereotype that all poor people are drug users. There is no evidence to back up, as other states that have enacted similar laws have discovered. The bill would require the TANF recipient to pay for the test. They would be reimbursed later on if they passed the test.  Their TANF benefits are outstripped already by the cost of housing, utilities and food. This is just another way of demonizing them. 

If a person failed the test, they would lose their benefits for a year, at which time they could apply again. Their children would be able to continue to get benefits that would be handled by a third party, once that person passed the drug testing. The bill doesn’t specify who pays for their test. The bill doesn’t specify what kind of testing will be done. Rep. LeBrun became a little grumpy during his testimony, because there were so many questions he was unable to answer. “No bill is perfect” became his refrain. 

Rep. French from the committee asked Rep. LeBrun if the intent was to identify a person who needs help, or ensure they don’t get welfare? LeBrun answered, “We want to see them get the help they need.” The bill specifies that the state will not be paying for that help, though they will give the person who has just lost TANF benefits a list of treatment professionals in their area. No word on how that treatment will be procured by someone with no money. One can’t properly call this help. 

Deb Shorter, a former caseworker, was present to testify in favor of the bill. She offered anecdotal evidence about TANF recipients. In her opinion many TANF recipients are on drugs. When asked for solid numbers by a committee member, she said she isn’t a statistician. She is, however, an author, as she proudly reminded everyone several times, and kept a copy of her book on the table where she sat while giving testimony. The self-published book is called “An Eye into Welfare,” and from the excerpts available online, appears to be long on anecdote and short on verifiable fact. 

Attorney Ann Rice, from the state’s Attorney General’s office was on hand to oppose the bill. The constitutionality of this bill would be challenged, she said. Other states with similar laws are currently engaged in litigation. 

Other attorneys made similar arguments. This is a bill that guarantees litigation, expensive litigation that the taxpayers of our state will foot the bill for. DHHS will have increased costs. There will need to be people who monitor the taking of the samples, monitor the samples themselves, as well as their storage and delivery.  It seems likely that the cost will be higher than any potential savings. There are also issues of medical privacy that the bill doesn’t address. 

It’s a poorly written bill that stands little chance of going anywhere. It begs at least two questions: why do Representatives LeBrun and Notter have so little respect for their colleagues that they would waste their time on a do-nothing bill? And why do they feel justified in thumbing their noses at NH taxpayers? 

© 2013 sbruce
Published as an op-ed in the January 25, 2013 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Urine Need of Better Representation

I attended a hearing today at the NH House for HB121, "An act requiring drug testing of applicants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families." (TANF)

This bill is sponsored by Donald LeBrun of Nashua (who sponsored the bill to drug test food stamp recipients in 2011) and Jeanine Notter of Merrimack. 

   The analysis of the bill:

The bill requires the Dept. of Health and Human Services to implement a drug testing program for applicants of TANF. 

It's so much more than that. Not only do they want to drug test everyone, they want the person being tested to pay for the test. If they pass the test, the money will be reimbursed. If they don't pass the test, they'll be ineligible to receive TANF benefits for a year. Children under the age of 18 are exempt from the testing - UNLESS they  happen to be a teen parent who is not living with a parent or guardian. 

A person who fails the test will get a list of substance abuse treatment providers available in their area. No word on how, if they have no money, they'll pay for the treatment. The bill is very clear that the state of NH will NOT be paying. 

The good news is that if a parent is deemed ineligible for benefits, their dependent child(ren) can still receive benefits. An appropriate payee will be designated to receive the benefits on behalf of the child. 
This appropriate person will also undergo drug testing before being approved. No word on who pays for that drug test. 

Those who are deemed physically or mentally "hindered" will not be required to undergo testing. 

There's more - so much more. The entire text is available at the NH General Court website. 

I missed the first few minutes of the  hearing because I was fighting my way through the huge assembly of gun nuts clogging up the hallway to testify in favor of keeping the so-called stand your ground bill. There were lots of men talking about protecting women, but they were oblivious to the women trying to navigate past them. 

Bill Sponsor Donald LeBrun spoke on behalf of the bill. HHS committee member Rep. Martel asked him what form of drug testing would be used. Rep. Martel didn't know. The bill doesn't specify. As we would learn, the bill doesn't specify a great many things. 

Rep. Barbara French asked "What is your main intent? To identify a person who needs help, or ensure that they don't get welfare?"

Rep. LeBrun answered, "we want to get them the help they need." 

Rep. Susan Ticehurst asked about prescription drugs, since there was no language in the bill to allow someone testing positive for drugs they are legitimately taking to continue to receive benefits. 

Rep. LeBrun said, "The bill does not specify that, but as I've said before, no bill is perfect. Someone can offer an amendment." It seemed he'd made the point about the imperfect nature of the bill a number of times already. 

Next was Assistant AG Ann Rice, opposing the bill on behalf of the Attorney General's office. The constitutionality of the bill would be challenged she said - under both the 4th and the 14th amendments. 
SCOTUS has upheld random drug testing only in the case of public safety. People who run trains, drive trucks, etc. Attorney Rice said this bill will most likely not be found to be constitutional. There is presently litigation proceeding in other states with similar laws. To go down this road will likely lead to litigation. 

Sarah Madsen from NH Legal Assistance pointed out that TANF is a federal block grant given to the states. She also stated that there is little evidence that drug use is prevalent amongst TANF recipients. She believes the bill will cost the state money. Ms. Madsen also pointed out that TANF is a means tested program. Families on TANF do not have the money to pay for a drug test up front, even with the promise of reimbursement. This would be a greater burden for those in rural areas who might have to drive a great distance to a testing facility. 

Rep. Martel had questions for her about the percentages of people who failed the drug tests in Florida. It was 108 out of 4,086. 

Mary Lou Beaver from Every Child Matters stated that the bill is based on stereotypes of drug use among poor people. TANF is a safety net program for children - and the cost of living for TANF recipients is already outstripping the benefit amount, making the paying for the testing especially hurtful. 

She also pointed out that the state will be on the hook for the legal costs accrued by the potential lawsuits. 

(A side note - Rep. LeBrun was listening to the testimony; smiling, laughing, and shaking his head in disagreement with those testifying before the committee.) 

Rep. Martel asked Ms. Beaver if people can buy cigarettes with EBT cards. "They can afford to buy cigarettes but they can't afford drug testing?" Apparently all TANF recipients are cigarette smokers, too. 

Next was Deb Shorter, who identified herself as a former caseworker, taxpayer, and author. She believes that people who are denied TANF will apply for disability. "THEY" will find loopholes, because that's what "THEY" do. She supports the bill, but did point out that "those people" don't even have money for gas, so expecting them to pay for the drug testing is unreasonable. 

She said that she has to pass a drug test to get a job, therefore everyone should. Most of her remarks were along the lines of "I have had many clients who were on drugs." Rep. Sherman from the committee asked her if she had any numbers or data other than "a lot." She said, "I'm not a statistician." She left with Rep. Notter. 

(Note: Her book is self published, and what I read of it on proved long on anecdote and short on verifiable fact.)

Next was Jennifer Jones, attorney for NH HHS. She pointed out that TANF is a welfare to work program, intended to lift people out of poverty, that they do in fact have to work. 

(Rep. LeBrun was shaking his head no during her testimony.)

Jones said that the department was able to determine only a small part of the potential fiscal impact of this bill. They were not able to determine the cost of the extra personnel that would be required to monitor the taking of samples, monitor the samples, or handle the storing and delivery process. Certainly there would be a negative fiscal impact on the dept. She mentioned that Rep. LeBrun had stated we would help them with drug treatment, and he became indignant. "I never said that," said  he. Except he kinda did, when he said, "We want to get them the help they need." The bill does specify there will be no help. 

Ms. Jones emphasized the fact that the maximum time limit anyone can receive TANF benefits is 60 months in a lifetime. She said that the average length of time most people get benefits is 19 months. 

Rep. Martel asked, "Is the department taking a position on this bill?" Jones replied, "We're taking the position that there will be a negative financial impact on the department." 

Next was Devon Chaffee, from NH ACLU. She testified that there have been no net savings as a result of these bills, that some states have chosen not to implement testing laws because of the costs. 

She also spoke of the issue of medical privacy and what manner of health related issues might come to light as a result of this sort of testing. The bill doesn't provide any protections for the people being tested. 

She called the bill a solution in search of a problem. 

I had to leave at this point, because I was due at another hearing - but you get the idea. No one offered a compelling rationale for why this testing is necessary, or what savings will result from it. 

It's a bill guaranteed to create lawsuits and expense for the state, and one unlikely to go anywhere. That begs some questions: why do Representatives LeBrun and Notter have so little respect for their colleagues that they'd waste their time on a do-nothing bill? And why do they feel justified in thumbing their nose at NH taxpayers? 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Former NH State Rep. Wants Current Legislators Arrested

Former State Rep. Robert Kingsbury of Laconia is back in the news. Rep. Kingsbury served one term in the NH House, where he sponsored a bill calling for the insertion of quotes from the Magna Carta into each new piece of legislation. He went on to further distinguish himself by revealing the results of a study he'd been doing for 16 years that proves that kindergarten causes crime. That's right - kindergarten is the cause for rising crime rates. Well, kindergarten, the decline of gun ownership, and the fact that boxing is no longer taught in schools.

Representative Kingsbury was frequently mentioned in the national media and was fodder for late night TV as a result of his work during that single term in the legislature.

He's back in the news today. According to the Laconia Daily Sun, Kingsbury asked the police to arrest two Laconia legislators:

Former State Rep. Robert Kingsbury yesterday asked police to arrest two city Democratic state representatives for violating their oath of office to uphold the state Constitution because they voted to reinstate the prohibition against carrying firearms into the Statehouse.Kingsbury, a Republican who served one term representing Laconia in Concord, sat through an hour-long Laconia Police Commission meeting yesterday before making his request to arrest Rep. Beth Arsenault and retired Judge and Rep. David Huot.He began his statements by reading portions of the New Hampshire Constitution, the United States Constitution and explaining to the commissioners how all police authority is local.

It is worth pointing out that the ban on guns in the State House was enacted during a GOP controlled House in the 1970's. The GOP had control of the NH House for 150 years, and didn't lose it until 2006. That ban was in effect for an awfully long time - until Speaker O'Brien ended it in 2010. I don't recall former Rep. Kingsbury calling for any arrests in the decades leading up to the overturning of the ban.

This does, perhaps, illustrate why he's a former State Rep instead of a current one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

HB143 - Straight Ticket Voting

This morning the Election Law Committee heard testimony on HB143: An Act Allowing Straight Ticket Voting.  This bill is sponsored by Representatives Notter, Peterson, LeBrun, and Rice - all Republicans.

The NH legislature abolished straight ticket voting in 2007, after the Democrats took control of the NH House for the first time in 150 years. The state has had 3 voting cycles without it, but now, after the significant losses by the GOP in 2012, they've decided to attempt to bring it back. I was interested to hear the justifications, so I attended the hearing.

Representative Frederick Rice of Hampton was the designated speaker from the group of sponsors.

He was asked by one member of the committee how this bill would impact those candidates who get their names on both sides of the ballot. He did a little dance around that, and said it wasn't a legislative issue, but an issue for the political parties to decide - who is and isn't a member of their party. Assuming the bill would work the same way it did in the past, a straight ticket vote means voting for anyone listed as a candidate for whatever party one chooses. In 2002, when I ran for the legislature, a number of came up and said "I voted for you - I voted straight ticket!" and were horrified to learn that they'd also voted for Gene Chandler, who that year had worked hard to get on both sides of the ballot.

Representative Rice went on to say that a candidate who elevates themselves won't be a casualty of straight ticket voting.  (One might wonder what the point is, if  that's the case.)

He stated a number of times that it's primarily a matter of convenience. Apparently reading down the whole ballot and filling in those little circles with the pencil is inconvenient.

Rep. Bob Perry asked how many states have straight ticket voting. Rep. Rice did not know. I do - because I went home and looked it up.

 There are 15 states that have STV: Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia all have unrestricted STV. New Jersey has STV only in primary elections. N. Carolina has STV for all races but the presidential elections. Rhode Island has STV only in general elections, and New Mexico chose to suspend STV in the November 2012 election.
Straight ticked voting is on the decline in the US. A number of states  have abolished it in the last decade or so. Georgia abolished STV in 1994. Illinois abolished STV in 1997. Michigan tried in 2001, but it was repealed. Missouri abolished it in 2006 as part of their Voter ID law. NH abolished STV in 2007, S. Dakota in 1996, and Wisconsin in 2011. 

Rep. Marcia Moody asked if someone voted straight ticket, then crossed over further down and voted for another candidate if that would cancel out their vote. Rep. Rice didn't know. Representative LeBrun had to slip him copies of the bill twice, and do some explaining to him. Apparently it would not cancel out the vote. Rep. Rice explained that straight ticket voting is like buying a refrigerator at Home Depot - the buyer gets the basic package, but gets to choose the options.

After Rep. Rice completed his testimony, Rep. Peter Schmidt was up next, to testify in opposition to the bill. Rep. Schmidt said that convenience to voters should not be the determining factor in how we vote. He said it's not a good argument, that voters should know who they're voting for. "Voting should be an informed act, a significant act." Rep. Schmidt said that he would not vote solely on the basis of party affiliation if he didn't know a candidate, "that is irresponsible."

He also referenced the number of voters who did vote solely on the basis of party affiliation in 2010 and came to regret their decisions. (Martin Harty, anyone?)

During Rep. Schmidt's testimony, Josh McElveen and a cameraman from WMUR came in and did a little taping of Schmidt's testimony. McElveen  and Rep. Notter both went out into the hallway for a chat.

Committee member Rep. Marston mentioned the long lines at the polls on election day. Representative Schmidt pointed out that those lines were caused by new voters registering on election day. Rep. Marston said that as a town moderator he knows that voters want convenience - that one check mark is so convenient, when there are so many choices on a ballot.

Rep. Schmidt responded, "Why not send someone to their house with a ballot and a pen and let them vote in bed?"

There was also some question about the interpretation of language in the bill in the area of instructions on voting a straight ticked.  Rep. Schmidt's interpretation did not jibe with that of Reps. Notter, Peterson, and LeBrun.

Former Rep. Harriet Cady testified in favor of the bill. She said that it is convenient and less time consuming. As a supervisor of the checklist, she's encountered new young voters who don't even understand the 2 party system. Students in our society are not well educated in our voting system, and they take an inordinate amount of time in the voting booth.

So, rather than educate them, just give 'em a pencil and let them vote a straight ticket?

Bottom line: this bill comes from Republicans in the southern part of the state. Even after the exhaustive gerrymandering done by the GOP in the last legislature, some Republicans STILL lost their seats. Former Speaker O'Brien barely clung to his seat (winning by 67 votes) in a district that was especially designed to keep him. Since gerrymandering isn't enough to maintain a permanent GOP majority, they'll try every gimmick they can think of. The one thing they seem unwilling to try is doing something about the very real problems our state faces. They'd prefer to fritter away their time (and our tax dollars) on manufactured "problems."

 The saddest thing about the testimony today was the kind of low expectations that the members of the minority party have of NH voters. Apparently we're too lazy to bother to read a ballot all the way down, and not clever enough to fill in all the little spaces - and actually researching the candidates to know whom we're voting for seems to be far beyond our ability.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

NH GOP Wants to Go Back to Straight Ticket Voting

Some NH Republicans have filed a bill to bring back straight ticket voting. It used to be that there were boxes on top of the ticket that enabled you to vote with one check for the candidates of either the Democratic or the Republican Party. One was not required to READ the ballot, just vote for party loyalty.

Today's story from NHPR:

The four sponsors of the bill to restore it are Republicans. One of the sponsors, Representative Fred Rice of Hampton, says having the straight ticket option would be a matter of convenience and could speed the polling process.

This is the same NH GOP that passed the unnecessary Voter ID bill, which has caused the process to be inconvenient and slow.

In 2012 the NH legislature passed a big redistricting bill. Those who were a little more daring might call it gerrymandering. In any case, it was designed to protect Republican seats, and guarantee Republican majorities.

And still they lost control of the NH House in November. Speaker O'Brien (whose district was designed to protect him) barely kept his seat, winning by only 67 votes. The sudden interest in returning to straight ticket voting is telling us that the NH GOP fears the only way they can win elections is by gerrymandering and gimmickry.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The New Biennium

The New Year has begun, and with it, a new legislature in Concord begins a new biennium. Voters changed the configuration of the House by voting in a Democratic majority; no small feat given the comprehensive gerrymandering that took place last year by the GOP. Certainly after the very public failings of the last bunch, we head into 2013 hoping for better. 

There have been 876 LSRs (potential bills) filed for 2013. There were more, but 148 were withdrawn. Just as a comparison, in 2012, 870 LSRs were filed, and 175 withdrawn. In 2011, 900 LSRs were filed, and in 2010 there were 834. As you can see, the numbers stay pretty much in the same ballpark each year.  Some are bills that we’ve seen before – endlessly. Former Speaker O’Brien has chosen to bring forth another right to work bill, despite the fact that his last try at it went down in flames. Speaking of the former speaker, Rep. O’Brien refused any committee assignment. Apparently he’s too important to work on a committee that he isn’t chairing. 

There are four proposed amendments to the NH Constitution, despite the thorough thrashing that all of the amendments got on the ballot in 2012. 
It is, however, a change from 2010 when there were 13 amendments proposed by the (GOP) minority party. 

CACR1 would provide that a 3/5-majority vote was required to pass legislation imposing new or increased licenses or fees, or to authorize the issuance of state bonds. In other words, CACR1 would guarantee that no new funds could be raised to run the state. This is sponsored by Reps. Jordan Ulery and Sharon Carson. 

CACR2 is also tax related, and would provide that taxes raised by the state of NH or its subdivisions may be graduated. This is sponsored by Reps. Charles Weed and Timothy Robertson, and has a snowball’s chance in hell of going anywhere. 

CACR3 is a bill we’ve seen before, but not as a constitutional amendment. It would provide that parents have the natural right to control the health, education, and welfare of their children. This comes to us from the same crew that has filed it before: Reps. Itse, Baldasaro, Kappler, Comerford, Hoell, and Tucker. One wonders at the thought process – given that this hasn’t made it as a bill, why they think it would succeed as an amendment to the state constitution. Or perhaps this is just the minority party making a ‘statement’ at the taxpayer’s expense. 

CACR4 is another bill that’s failed to go anywhere, turned constitutional amendment. It would provide that the rules made by the chief justice of the NH Supreme Court governing the administration of the courts in the state shall not have the force and effect of law. This comes to us by Rep. Lars Christiansen, who has demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the judicial branch in the past. Christiansen (and some of his cohorts) feel that the legislature should replace the judicial branch. The last legislature was certainly the best possible argument against that idea. This has been floating around now for a few years in varying iterations, and hasn’t gone anywhere. Again, it seems to be a minority party ‘statement’ at the expense of NH taxpayers. 

There are other regurgitations. H1333 would require drug testing of applicants to TANF, as sponsored by Reps. Notter and LeBrun. Rep. LeBrun sponsored a bill in 2011 that called for drug testing of food stamp recipients. It would have saved the state nothing, while costing NH taxpayers over $3million. Another ‘statement’ at the taxpayer’s expense. Rep. Notter achieved a certain amount of renown in 2012 for saying that birth control causes prostate cancer. 

H147 would give the legislature the authority to define education standards. Not content with wanting to take over the judiciary, some members of the minority party are extending their overreach into education, and have filed several bills aimed at a legislative takeover of education. Again – the last legislature was the best possible argument against this. 

There are also a number of gun bills. H14 is relative to the relinquishing of firearms as a condition of bail, and it seems likely that this bill is aimed at ensuring that firearms not be relinquished. H692 would eliminate the license requirement for a concealed weapon. There are a number of anti-abortion bills as well. The minority party is deeply concerned with ensuring that firearms not be regulated, while forcefully regulating the reproductive decisions of the women of our state.  

My favorite LSR is H186: requiring ballot measures to be in plain English. Surely that’s one that we can all get behind. 

H228 would abolish the death penalty, which would enable NH to join the civilized nations of the world. H279 is a bill in support of medical marijuana, something that already exists in Vermont and Maine. We treat our dying pets with great love and care, and don’t want to see them suffer. It’s time we do the same for our fellow humans who are sick or dying. 

Privacy issues are going to be big this session. One of them, H82, would prohibit an employer from requiring an actual or potential employee to disclose his or her social media passwords. 

Of local interest, H760 is  “relative to resurfacing a portion of East Conway Road, and making an appropriation therefore.” It’s sponsored by Reps. Buco and White, and Senator Bradley. 

This is just a small sample of the mixed bag of proposed legislation. Not all of these bills will see the light of day. There seems to be a fair amount of duplication, so some will be combined. Some will never get out of committee. They are all available for viewing at the NH General Court website, which is a great resource:

There you can find bills, and track their progress, read the House and Senate calendars to see what’s coming up, and look up legislators. 

It’s a new year, and a new session. NH has real problems that need solving. Let’s hope for a more productive and less embarrassing biennium than the last one. 

© sbruce 2013 
This was published as an op-ed in the January 11, 2013 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.