Thursday, May 26, 2016

Legislative Legerdemain

Every legislative session starts with most of our legislators displaying at least a modicum of dignity and good manners. Most years that doesn’t begin to break down until the last month or so when it’s time to concur or not concur on amended bills.

This year the breakdown began early. As part of the House committee process, a member of the committee writes up a summary of a bill that is ready to go to the floor for a vote. It will explain what the intent of the bill is, explains any moving parts, the fiscal aspects and gives the committee’s recommendation. There may be a majority report, detailing why the majority of the committee supports or does not support the bill, and a minority report explaining why the minority does or does not believe it should pass. This write up is included in the House calendar. They are generally written with a neutral tone and language.

Not this year. Fellow calendar geeks undoubtedly noticed that a number of committee reports were written in either a sarcastic or self-righteous tone. This was an exceptional year in many respects. The NippleGate scandal was the result of Rep. Josh Moore opining on Twitter that a nipple bared in public was open for grabbing. Rep. Ken Weyler announced his opinion that giving public benefits to anyone practicing Islam is treason. Representative Kyle Tasker brought glory to the GOP when he was arrested at the place where he was supposed to be meeting a 14-year-old girl he’d been soliciting sex from on the internet. He met a cop, instead. More cops found his house full of drugs, and there is reportedly a list of his legislative customers, that may go public at some point. As someone once involved in the informal pharmaceutical trade, let me give ya’ll some advice. One thing you really want in a drug dealer is discretion. Don’t buy drugs from the guy who drops his gun in the State House and is always in the news for saying and doing obnoxious things.

As the legislature winds down, it’s time for shenanigans and deals. Any bill that was amended by either the House or Senate must go back to the body it originated from, where that body votes on whether to concur with the amended version, to non concur which kills the bill, or they can ask for a Committee of Conference. (CoC)

The language from dead or tabled bills can be tacked on to completely unrelated bills (a phenomenon known as the non-germane amendment) in an effort to sweeten the deal or twist arms. Some of the weirder examples include HB 636: relative to forfeiture of property; relative to the sale of premixed synthetic urine; establishing a grant program for high schools for heroin and opiate prevention education; and clarifying who may petition to adopt. Because when you think adoption, you think synthetic urine.

SB 495: relative to the health care premium contribution for retired state employees who are eligible for Medicare Parts A and B due to age or disability, relative to funding of retiree health benefits, making appropriations to the department of administrative services, and relative to the definition of a cigar bar. (One of these things is not like the other.) The goal is to give the other guys something they want, so that they’ll vote for your bill, even though they don’t like it. 

That’s how a bill written to fund the police standards and training council and purchase some state police cars (SB 527) was amended to include a provision about bi-weekly paychecks. The Senate tabled the original biweekly paycheck bill. In the legislature, tabling can also be defined as “saving for future leverage.” In this instance, money for cops and cop cars would not be approved by the anti-cop libertea crowd – but tack on the language from the biweekly paycheck bill that was written and sponsored by a number of libertea restaurant owners, and the cops might get their cruisers. This bill is still in the CoC.

Once in a CoC, the members have to unanimously agree to changes, and everyone has to sign off on the report. The report then goes back to the originating body for an official vote on whether to pass the whole thing or not. If it passes, it will eventually hit the governor’s desk.

Another fun aspect of the Committee of Conference process is that the members of the committee can be changed at any time, depending on the desired outcome.  For example, SB 4 is yet another attempt to solve the nonexistent problem of voter fraud. The bill will require a voter to live in the state for 30 days before being allowed to vote. This is almost certainly unconstitutional, but that does not deter the voter suppression crowd. Wasting money on court challenges just means less money to spend frivolously on things like roads and bridges. The House amended the bill to add some rather pompous language about the intentions of the 1974 Constitutional Convention and the meaning of the term domicile, and the Senate asked for a CoC. A dissenting Senator (Democrat) was replaced by a Republican Senator and suddenly there is agreement! Not because it’s a good or necessary bill, but because it’s partisan jiggery pokery.

Eight voter domicile bills were filed this year. There were 4 concealed carry bills. These are the priorities of the current legislature. They aren’t the priorities of the average voter, but they do reflect the mindset of the ideologues that currently populate the majority party.

There is a link on the House General Court website where you can check out the bills currently in Committees of Conference, and who the members of the committee currently are. A look at the bill’s docket will show any changes in the configuration of the committee.

Legerdemain is defined as “sleight of hand when performing conjuring tricks.” That’s what the end of the legislative session is all about.

Published as an oped in the May 27 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

New Comment Policy

If all you have are gratuitous insults, don't bother. I'm not publishing them anymore. 

Be smart, be witty, be snarky - but above all be interesting. Or be gone. 

The Management 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Living in the Past

Last August about 50 women staged a “Free the Nipple” protest at Hampton Beach. There is a nation-wide movement to desexualize the breast and strike down local, state, and national laws against toplessness. A month later, six women were arrested for being topless on a beach in Guilford. Going topless is a misdemeanor offense for a woman in the state of NH. Driving while impaired is a misdemeanor. You can kill someone while driving drunk. Our state equates the crime of driving while impaired to being topless and female in public.

Clearly something had to be done about those dangerous breasts and the women who might flaunt them in public. State Senator Nancy Stiles of Hampton wrote a bill  (SB 347) to enable the state and municipalities to adopt ordinances regulating attire on state and municipal property. The bill concerned itself largely with regulating bathing, sunbathing, and swimming in municipal or state properties. It was going to be added to a statute that is intended to restrain and punish vagrants, mendicants, street beggars, strolling musicians, and common prostitutes and prevent them from engaging in obscene conduct. The state and municipalities would be allowed to create ordinances to dictate what sort of attire should be worn on state or municipal property. 

One could imagine, perhaps: Tuxedo Thursdays in Tuckerman’s Ravine?  Or maybe Hawaiian shirt day in Crawford Notch? Mendicant Mondays? Naturally every day would be coverall day at Hampton Beach to keep those rampant bosoms out of sight. This would also include the State House, which doesn’t seem to have occurred to the sponsors.

One could further imagine the creation of the Governor’s Commission on Proper Public Attire. What the bill lacks (other than any sort of coherent rationale) was an enforcement mechanism. It needs a Dress Code Czar, which is pretty much my dream job. I’m ready, willing, and able to instruct strolling musicians, common prostitutes and legislators on how to dress.

This bill came to us from Senate Republicans. Republicans, you may recall are the folks who complain so bitterly about what they “nanny state.” Then again, legislating the behavior of women has always been at the heart of the GOP agenda, and is therefore exempt - the accusations of “nanny state” only apply if they affect MEN. This attempt at dressing women in burkas at public beaches is just business as usual. Any idiot can have a gun in this state, but breasts are apparently the REAL danger. Two of the bill’s sponsors are not running for reelection. The rest of the bunch should seriously consider retirement, if this is their idea of important or necessary legislation.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, by the time a child reaches the age of 18, they will have seen over 16,000 simulated murders and over 200,000 acts of violence. And we’re worried about naked bosoms scaring the children?

In the category of actual important legislation, the House will have voted on the omnibus opioid bill (as well as the dress code bill) by the time you read this. The big drug bill is intended to do something about the opioid epidemic that is having such an impact on our state. It is one of the bills that were written last year to be “fast tracked” by the legislature. There is no fast track in NH. (If a provision had been added to give every addict a gun, this would have been passed months ago.) One of the actual provisions of SB 533 is an appropriation for $2 million to the Housing Finance Authority for supportive housing for substance abusers.

This is important. Addiction does not lend itself to cookie cutter solutions. Addicts have a variety of different needs. My second husband became a heroin addict after we split up. He had a good job, a car, and a place to live. When he got to rehab, he had the clothes on his back. No car. No place to live. Holes in his shoes. He still had the job – and lucky for him, he had excellent health insurance. He called me from rehab, because I was the only sober/clean person he knew. His world had narrowed to being populated mostly by other addicts, which is not unusual. He stayed clean for a while, but relapsed, which is common with any drug addiction. The second time, he stayed clean. He moved into a sober house when he got back from the second stint at rehab, and he stayed there for a couple of years. Some addicts need to put a lot of distance between the new life they’re trying to begin and the old life they’re trying to get away from.

New Hampshire doesn’t offer much in the way of substance abuse treatment. Supportive housing for people who need a complete change of venue if they’re going to be able to stay clean is crucial. Heroin (and other opioid) addicts can recover and go on to lead productive lives, despite what one sees in the comment section of the Union Leader. Unfortunately most people know very little about addiction, and that includes most of our legislature. We weren’t overly concerned about addicts until the children of the middle class started dying.

A disappointing aspect to all of the bills intended to deal with the opioid crisis is the heavy emphasis on law enforcement solutions. At the beginning there was a lot of talk about how NH couldn’t arrest its way out of the problem. That is still true, yet our legislature is determined to try. The war on drugs, the pledge, and trickle down economics are all failing our state, but we are unable to end our addiction to living in the past.

Edited to add:

Every story I read about the Free the Nipple events was incorrect. The NH media didn't do a very good job of covering the story. Going topless is not against the law in NH. Only 2 women were arrested in Guilford. I found SB 347 mockworthy for a number of reasons, mostly, because it would have allowed dress codes at every public property. That was and is silly, and deserved to be made fun of. I didn't intentionally spread misinformation - and I'm sorry that I inadvertently did. 

I wasn't writing to be sympathetic to the Free the Nipple activists, because frankly, their issue isn't even on my list. There are many, many things that need to change in women's lives. Homelessness, poverty, health care, equal pay, good jobs, the right to bodily autonomy, and affordable child care are right at the top, along with doing something about guns and violence against women. I find the Free the Nipple "movement" silly and self-indulgent. 

Published as an op-ed in the May 13 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.