Thursday, July 09, 2015

Be Sure to Ask Them Why

The last voting session of the NH legislature was June 24. That was the day our state representatives and senators voted on the budget and the committee of conference reports. Bills originate in either the House or Senate. They go through committee, get tinkered with and get voted on.  Midway through the session, the bills are swapped over to the other body. The other body may amend that bill, could even go as far as changing the title and text of the original bill completely. After it’s voted on the original body has to concur with the changes made to the bill. If they do not, the bill is sent to a Committee of Conference. The CoC is made up of members of both political parties from the House and Senate. If they can work out a compromise, the CoC report has to be adopted by both bodies. That’s what was happening on June 24.

One of those bills was HB 681. It originated in the House (HB means house bill). It was intended to increase the fee for marriage licenses in the state, with the monies from the increase going to fund the state’s domestic violence grant program that acts as an umbrella organization to distribute funds to domestic violence programs around the state. It passed the House on a roll call vote of 223-146. The Carroll County Representatives that voted for the bill: Buco, Butler, Crawford, McConkey, Nelson, Parker, Schmidt, Ticehurst, and Umberger. Those who voted against funding for domestic violence were Representatives Avellani, Chandler, Comeau, Cordelli, McCarthy, and Wright.

The bill moved over to the Senate, where during the Senate vote, garnered three floor amendments. The first amendment made an appropriation of the princely sum of $160,000 to fund the domestic violent grant program. Thanks Senator Sanborn! The second amendment stipulated that a convicted abuser would pay a $50 fine. The monies from the fine would go to the domestic violence grant program. This eliminated the increase in the marriage license fee. The third floor amendment came from our own Senator Bradley, who added the increase in the marriage license fee back to the bill, so that it would include both the fine and the fee increase. The House did not concur, so a Committee of Conference was requested.

The biggest sticking point seemed to be that the House members of the committee were worried that a low-income convicted abuser wouldn’t be able to pay the fine and might be incarcerated as a result. The amendment was changed to give the judge the discretion to either defer the fine or set up a payment plan as needed. The Sanborn amendment was ditched. The bill includes both the fee increase and the fine.

This Committee of Conference report was voted on June 24. The Senate voted to adopt the report with a voice vote. The House with a roll call vote of 204-144 adopted the report. In Carroll County, Representatives Butler, Chandler, Parker, Schmidt, Ticehurst, and Umberger voted to help fund domestic violence programs in our state. Representatives Avellani, Buco, Comeau, Cordelli, McConkey, McCarthy, Nelson, and Wright voted not to fund domestic violence programs. Representative Crawford was not voting.

I spoke with Representative Buco, who has a good record of supporting domestic violence funding. He voted against the CoC report on HB 681 because he voted against all of the CoC reports. He felt as though he didn’t know enough about what had transpired in any of the committees of conference, so he just voted no on everything.

Representative Comeau is a member of the Free State Project, and all of the Free Staters who were present on June 24 voted against adopting the CoC report. All but one of them voted against the original bill, back in March. The one who did was Elizabeth Edwards. Edwards ran as a Democrat in Manchester, as did fellow Free Stater Amanda Bouldin. Representative Bouldin votes with the GOP, thereby defrauding the people who voted for her.  Edwards is a little more thoughtful. Both Bouldin and Edwards were absent on June 24. Instead of representing their constituents, they were at the annual Free Stater frat party in Lancaster.

Free Staters and their libertea allies hate domestic violence bills, because a conviction means that an abuser will lose his or her firearms. Last year libertea ally JR Hoell voted against the bill that made domestic violence a crime in NH. When I asked why, he mumbled something about unintended consequences. I asked, “Oh, like having their guns taken away?” He ran away. No one was ever as glad to see Josh McElveen of WMUR as Hoell was that day.

The entity known as the House Liberty Alliance, a group originally formed by the Free State Project (though they will deny it) passes out a handout to legislators heading in to the session. The handout is called, “The Gold Standard.” (insert roll-eyes here) It tells the legislator how to vote on selected bills. It’s so much easier than thinking.

As for the rest of the Carroll County Republicans who voted against funding domestic violence programs – I suspect that they’ll tell you that they signed pledges that said NO FEE INCREASES or FINES. Again, taking pledges is so much easier than thinking.

Over the last ten years, domestic violence homicides comprise half of NH murders. Between the years of 2011 and 2013, the numbers dropped to 47%. In the years 2011 -2013, of the victims murdered by their partners, three out of four were women. Forty-two percent of the domestic violence homicides involved a gun. Domestic violence happens to men, women, children, the elderly, and the physically or mentally disabled in our state, regardless of income, race, sexual orientation, age, or gender. It’s estimated that 33.5% of women and 24% of men in our state have experienced a physical assault by an intimate partner.

Half the murders in our state are domestic violence murders, yet a number of our local state legislators don’t want to fund programs to help victims and educate others.

Be sure to ask them why.   

Published as an op-ed in the June 10 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

No comments: