Friday, January 20, 2017

Two Weeks In

The new legislative session got off to a bang – almost. The annual gun-dropping incident by a lawmaker has already occurred. Not only did we have a gun-dropping incident this early in the session, but this time it came with gender parity! Yes, finally a female member of the NH House has dropped a gun in a committee hearing. Ah, equality!

State Representative Carolyn Halstead of Milford was late for the hearing on all-day kindergarten in the Education Committee room. As she settled near a woman with some small children, she yanked off her backpack, and the gun she had stuck in the back waistband of her pants fell out. Her gun instructor had told her not to carry her weapon this way – but she did it anyway, and now she’s a national news story. This is a perfect illustration of why not every nitwit should have a gun, especially legislators.

It’s ironic that this incident took place days before the NH Senate votes on SB 12, the bill to eliminate licensing for the concealed carry of a pistol or revolver. The gun crowd loves to call it “Constitutional carry,” yet try as I might I see nothing stating, “every nitwit should have a gun” in the second amendment. One GOP former legislator turned felon commenting on a friend’s blog compared it to dropping a set of keys on the floor. One thing that the gun crowd won’t do is call it what it is – negligence.  Kyle Tasker is working on a thank you note from jail, to Rep. Halstead for replacing him as the latest gun dropping doofus in the NH House, thereby taking the focus off of him.  

The Senate is intent on ramming that through ASAP, along with SB 11, the so-called “right to work” bill that seeks to eliminate collective bargaining and unions. NH Republicans are furious at the thought that workers could band together and demand better pay, working conditions, and benefits, and have been trying to keep that from happening for over 30 years. It’s a bill that comes from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a group of far right legislators from around the country who are handed model legislation at their events to take home and present as their own. The Koch brothers fund ALEC. The title is a brilliant bit of deception - it should properly be called “Work without Rights.”  It was one of the centerpieces of Governor Chris Sununu’s campaign. Sununu showed his disdain for the collective bargaining process by taking office and immediately accepting the governor’s full salary AND a pay raise negotiated by the state employee’s union.

Neither of these bills will do anything to address the very real needs of our state.

Also coming up is HB 279, a bill to allow smoking in bars and supermarkets. Who doesn’t find the idea of smokers tapping their ashes all over the supermarket appealing? The sponsors of the bill are Rep. Robert Hull from Grafton, and Lino Avellani from Wakefield. Hull is a member of the Free State Project. Avellani may or may not be a Free Stater, but he’s certainly one of their allies. He’s also a restaurant owner, who apparently wants to serve a side order of lung cancer with breakfast. What’s droll about this is that the liberty crowd hates government and government spending. They don’t seem to have thought this through. Cigarette taxes fund the state, so increased tobacco sales work against their goal of dismantling the state government.

HB 106 would change our sexual assault laws. The new wording would go like this: "The testimony of the victim shall be corroborated in prosecutions under this chapter only in cases where the defendant has no prior convictions under this chapter." If you’re lucky enough to get raped by a guy with a prior conviction, you won’t need to corroborate your testimony. The concern here is that some poor man will be wrongly accused. The concern is not for the actual victims of sexual assault. This bill will protect rapists and pedophiles.

If the intention of the sponsors is to ensure that even fewer victims come forward, then this bill will work as planned. Oh, and speaking of sponsors, this bill was written by Rep. William Marsh of Wolfeboro. Carroll County sure is having a banner year in bad legislation so far – and we’re only halfway through January. One of my friends referred to this bill as “Saudi Arabia on the Merrimack.” In Saudi Arabia in  2015, a woman who was gang raped was publicly flogged. Perhaps Representative Marsh can write up something like that for 2018.  

There are 776 LSRs listed on the NH General Court website. LSR stands for legislative service request, meaning that a lawmaker is submitting it to legislative services for help in writing it up in bill-like language. A number of bills have been submitted this year by legislators seeking to pass laws that benefit their companies or themselves.

Some glaring (and amusing) examples of that come from State Rep. Richard Marple of Hooksett. Rep. Marple was arrested at the polls on Election Day. It seems that the police stopped Marple in 2014, while driving with a suspended license. His license was suspended for not paying a court fine in 2013. When he failed to show up in court, an electronic bench warrant was issued. This isn’t the only problem that the 85-year-old legislator is having. The town seized his house in June 2016, because he hadn’t paid his property taxes for a number of years. Marple claims he didn’t have to pay them, because of an “elderly exemption.” So far, he has yet to produce any proof of having applied for any such exemption. In the fantasy world he inhabits, he is not required to pay taxes or obey state laws. 

Marple filed HB 292, which would grant a jury trial for execution of a tax lien. He also filed HB 383, prohibiting electronic bench warrants. There are 116 LSRs that were withdrawn before being written up. One of them was Marple’s, “relative to the allocation of delinquent property taxes.” Given his fearlessness in filing legislation to benefit himself, it’s a wonder he didn’t go ahead with that one, too.  

The session runs till June. Lace up your lederhosen – we’re only two weeks in.

This was published as an opinion column in the January 20 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Leadership in the New Biennium

The NH legislature begins their new biennium this week. The GOP controls every branch of our state government, so we can be sure that some terrible legislation will be passed and none of it will actually do anything to improve our state’s economy, infrastructure, or do anything to plan for the future.

Now that there are no restraints, House Speaker Jasper has made some peculiar leadership choices. He named Al Baldasaro of Londonderry as Vice Chair of the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee.  Representative Baldasaro distinguished himself in August 2016 by braying on WRKO radio that Hillary Clinton should be shot for treason. Baldasaro has been saying stupid stuff in public for over a decade now. There was the time he testified at a committee hearing that the state of NH sells babies to gay couples for $10,000, or his nonsense about how a bill to stop the sale of lead fishing tackle  (it kills loons) was part of the UN plan for global domination. Rep. Baldasaro has the same level of impulse control that we see in our Twittertroll-in-Chief. There are many definitions of leader, from “inspires confidence in others” to  “horse placed in advance of the other horses of a team.”

Speaker Jasper named Rep. Yvonne Dean-Bailey of Northwood to be the Vice Chair of the Election Law Committee. Rep. Dean-Bailey is beginning her second term (it will be her first full term) in office. Landing a leadership position in the second term is very unusual, especially for someone who may not be old enough to drink legally. Most leadership positions are given to experienced legislators. Dean-Bailey was touted as a “fresh young voice” when she ran her remarkably well funded (by outside special interests) campaign in a special election in 2015. In this case, “fresh, young voice” means: “same old GOP talking points coming out of a young female mouth.” The NH GOP lost up and coming women Pam Tucker and Marilinda Garcia, and obviously intends to groom Dean-Bailey for bigger things.

Jasper appointed Rep. Donald LeBrun of Nashua to be the Vice Chair of the Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. Representative LeBrun’s campaign website says nothing about health, human services, or elderly folks. His sole interest is in cutting taxes and spending. LeBrun has chosen interesting ways to attempt it. In 2011 he sponsored a bill that would have made drug testing mandatory for food stamp recipients. It would have cost the state at least $7 million dollars, while saving nothing, given that SNAP is a federal program. There isn’t any way that there could be $7 million in fraud in NH – a state with a population of only 1.3 million. Hardly a fiscally responsible decision, but LeBrun has it in for the poors.

His next foray into cutting spending was a bill to drug test TANF recipients. This time he was smart enough to put a “Pay to Pee” provision in, whereby the individuals would have to pay for their own testing. If they passed, they’d be reimbursed. I attended the hearing for this poorly written bill, and witnessed LeBrun getting a little fed up with being asked questions he couldn’t answer. The bill isn’t perfect, he kept  repeating, petulantly. When people who knew actual facts testified, LeBrun sat there shaking his head no at them.

But that isn’t even the worst. At a hearing in 2013, LeBrun was quoted as saying, “Rather than spending money on people with disabilities, we have another choice, voluntary euthanasia…”
LeBrun was not removed from the committee. He was not ousted from the House. It wasn’t a big story in the NH media, unlike the story of the 90 year old freshman legislator who was ousted a few years ago for telling a constituent that it was too bad we couldn’t send people with disabilities to Siberia to freeze to death. This time, the leadership and the media covered for LeBrun. And now, despite an absence of any visible humanity at all, he’s just been given a leadership position on a committee that deals with important issues relating to humans.

In addition to being a poor excuse for a human being, he’s also a clown. This year he filed a bill to deny public benefits to anyone who desecrates the US or the NH flag. This is his idea of a priority for our state.

This is a man Speaker Jasper considers worthy of a leadership position. It seems that Jasper has abandoned all pretense of rationality and has chosen to let his freak flag fly along with the rest of his party.

Speaking of leadership, Rep. Frank Sapareto of Derry has been made Vice Chair of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. In 2013, Sapareto was convicted of simple assault in a domestic violence case. Gun felon and former State Rep. Max Abramson was not allowed to remain on the committee when his felony came to light. Sapareto challenged Jasper for the Speakership, and Jasper admitted that he promised Sapareto the committee position if he ended his run and backed Jasper. So, not only is a convicted abuser serving as the Vice Chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee – he got the job as quid pro quo.

The House Child and Family Law Committee has been eliminated. Speaker Jasper claimed that the only people who wanted to be on the committee were people who have grievances with the system. At a time when DCYF is under investigation for child deaths, this is a remarkable decision.

The good news is that the work of this committee will be shipped off to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee (under the leadership of a convicted domestic abuser) and the Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee – under the leadership of a man who thinks euthanizing people with disabilities is a reasonable cost saving plan.

Oh, what a biennium it’s shaping up to be. 

NOTE: The House voted on Wednesday not to eliminate the Child and Family Law Committee 

Published as an op-ed in the January 6 edition of the  Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Sunday, January 01, 2017

NH House HHS Committee - Leadership to be Proud Of

                                                  That's LeBrun with the Santorum sign

State Representative Donald LeBrun  (R-Nashua) has just been elected to his fourth term in the NH House. He's also been elevated to a leadership position. Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper appointed LeBrun to be Vice Chair of the Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee. 

According to LeBrun's website :

I will legislate to cut spending, cut taxes, and downsize government.
I will fight to reform (not cut) entitlement programs by identifying fraudulent claims and mismanagement. This will enable programs to continue without being cut.
I will represent my constituents to the best of my ability.
I will always be open, honest, and available. I will work diligently to fulfill the wishes of the majority regardless of party affiliation.
I will work with my colleagues toward a better, more efficient government in New Hampshire based on the state constitution.
No mention of health. No mention of human services - only fraud. Absolutely no mention of/or concern for the elderly. No interest in the future of our state, education, natural resources, or infrastructure. For LeBrun it's all about cutting spending and taxes. 
In 2011, LeBrun sponsored a bill to create mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients.
In 2013, LeBrun sponsored a bill to create mandatory drug testing for TANF beneficiaries. Here's my report on the hearing:
Even more egregious - in 2013, LeBrun gave his thoughts about people with disabilities: 
Donald LeBrun is quoted as saying, “Rather than spend money on people with disabilities we have another choice, Voluntary Euthanasia….”
He didn't get kicked off his committee. It wasn't much of a news story. None of the alleged Christian groups who prey on the legislature said boo. 
Naturally, LeBrun denied this. He was telling a story, he said. 
Except that it's consistent with his actions ever since he was elected to the House. 
And now, this man who thinks we should engage in "voluntary euthanasia" to cut disability spending has been elevated to a leadership position in the NH House.