Friday, June 24, 2016

Working As Planned

Two weeks ago I wrote about the legislature being called back for a special vote on a bill to give law enforcement an extra $1.5 million to deal with the opium crisis. To recap: The original bill, SB 485, failed to pass because a non-germane amendment concerning state employee health care was tacked on, to ensure that it wouldn’t pass. It didn’t. By one vote. The Governor wanted it to pass. House and Senate leadership wanted it to pass. Law enforcement wanted it to pass.

And so, a bipartisan group got together, eliminated the poison pill amendment, and wrote a new bill, HB 1000. The House and Senate were called back in to vote on it. Some representatives were very unhappy at being called back. They were so unhappy that they spent two hours debating whether to suspend the rules in order to vote on the bill. The legislative session began at 10. They didn’t begin discussing the bill till after the lunch break.
The vote was 241-97 to suspend the rules. It’s a small group of GOP miscreants who continually obstruct and delay, but they’re incredibly effective at wasting the time of their colleagues. They made a big point of asking the Speaker if leadership could vote without fear of retribution. It was the last day of this session, what did they think he going to do to them? Change the combo on their locker? Take their lunch money?  Send them to detention?

This voting session came into being because of a non-germane amendment.  To illustrate their displeasure, the libertea faction proceeded to propose 7 non-germane floor amendments to HB 1000. Most were an attempt to add in the language of bills that had already failed or been vetoed. Rep. JR Hoell, for whom guns appear to provide his sole reason for living, put forth a floor amendment to add on a provision that would repeal the requirement for a concealed carry license. Another amendment would have allowed stores to sell syringes without a prescription. Yet another would have allowed towns that have no public schools to use public funds to send children to private religious schools. All seven of the non-germane amendments failed by wide margins, but did succeed in wasting hours of everyone’s time.

Eventually HB 1000 passed by a vote of 235-74. They moved on to attempt to overturn the governor’s veto of six bills. The first prohibited the confiscation of firearms and ammo during a state of emergency. This has never happened in New Hampshire. It was proposed in New Orleans during the aftermath of Katrina, but that story has been twisted by the NRA to get the gundamentalists up in arms, which isn’t exactly a challenge. They’re easily manipulated. (One can only imagine their disappointment in the fact that Obama never even tried to take their guns away, after 8 years of caterwauling about it.)  The veto override failed. So did the attempt to override the veto on the bill repealing the concealed carry license requirement, so that bill failed twice in one day. The override of the bill to use public funds for private religious schools failed. All six override attempts failed.

The last debate concerned an entry in the House journal. Every voting session day begins with an “invocation” which is another way of saying prayer. The prayer was edited in the print version, as many things are. All of the “umms” spoken in a speech are edited out. The minister made reference to “children, born and unborn” in his prayer, and that was truncated to “children.” There’s also a tradition of editing overly sectarian or politically charged language in favor of more neutral language in the permanent record. Fetus fetishist Warren Groen took exception to this editing, and made a fuss. You may remember Warren Groen as the representative who made the fetus speech to fourth graders visiting the legislature who proposed making the red tailed hawk the state bird. The vote to amend the journal passed by a narrow margin, after an hour long debate that began at 4 p.m.

I’m in favor of transparency. If inflammatory, foolish, or reactionary statements are made, they should be included in the permanent record, where the public can see them and hold the makers of the statements accountable for them. Legislative sessions should not be opened with prayers. It is a tradition that should be eliminated. The 400 members of the House do not all share the same religion – and even if they did, their religion should have no sway in the public affairs of our state. No religion should. If there’s a need to fill a hole in the ritual, read a poem. Some Walt Whitman would be nice.

Over in the Senate, the vote to suspend the rules slid right through on a voice vote. No floor amendments. HB 1000 passed unanimously.

HB 1000 passed largely because it’s an election year and most legislators did not want to be seen as voting against law enforcement during an opioid crisis. Whether this is a good use of funds is debatable. In this case, because it’s an election year, perception is everything.

A number of long time representatives are leaving the legislature because of the obstructionist crowd. The endless roll call votes and procedural delays are working exactly as planned.

Published as an op-ed in the June 24 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

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