Down in Concord

“Lord, the money we do spend on Government and it’s not one bit better than the government we got for one-third the money twenty years ago.”
— Will Rogers

To date, the House has passed 50 bills – some good, some bad. It has killed 53 – some bad, some good. That leaves only about 490 House bills left to consider. And then the House will consider Senate bills and vice versa.

For legislative nerds such as myself, there was one fun outcome. HB 136 (sponsored by a Democrat) proposed to increase the pay for State Reps to attend meetings of the county convention. The House Committee on Municipal and County Government unanimously recommended in favor of this bill, and further recommended that it be placed on the Consent Calendar.

What, pray tell, is the Consent Calendar? I’m glad you asked. Every week, generally on Thursdays, the House Clerk publishes a calendar of legislative events for the following week. (You can see them at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/caljourns/default.htm.) The three main sections of the calendar are the Consent Calendar, the Regular Calendar, and Committee Meetings.

Items on the Consent Calendar are considered non-controversial, not needing further debate, and are handled with a single voice vote for the entire group of items. Bills on the Regular Calendar are subject to separate debate and separate votes. Any one Representative may “pull” an item off of the Consent Calendar and have it discussed at the end of the Regular Calendar.

HB 136 was pulled off of Consent by a Representative who was not comfortable with the idea of Reps voting themselves a pay increase while voting for budget cuts in their counties. After several Reps spoke against the bill, it was defeated on a roll call of nearly 2-1 (116-228).

It is rare for a bill to be pulled from Consent, even rarer for the full House to overturn a committee recommendation. So the defeat of this bill – well deserved – was fun to see. It may be the last time that happens this year.

The House thankfully killed HB 168, which would have increased the beer tax, and killed CACR 2, which would have led to increased taxes. Sadly, but not surprisingly, it also killed CACR 1, which would have made it harder to increase taxes.

Also not surprisingly, the House killed HB 323, which would have given workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. Should people be forced to join a union in order to work for the state government?

By a narrow margin (186-165), mostly on party lines, the House passed HB 185, which increases by 25% a tax on fuel oil. The bill now goes to a second committee, where there is a (slim) possibility the tax can be killed. Most bills go to just one committee, then to the House floor, and then if passed, to the Senate. Bills that raise or spend money go to a second committee. HB 185 first went to the Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee. Now that it has been approved by the full House, it goes to the Ways & Means committee, then back to the House for a second vote.

Four bills from last week’s column will get floor votes on Wednesday, February 20. HB 330, which would have allowed a county income tax almost surely will be killed. That is the only good news. HB 335, which would have blocked an increase in the tobacco tax, probably will be killed on a near party line vote. Republicans oppose a tax increase because it will particularly hurt the poor, and because it will hurt business in towns close to the borders, where neighboring states’ residents come to shop.

Democrats oppose HB 335 and oppose HB 354, which would have reduced the Business Enterprise Tax, because they think with higher tax rates they will get more money for them to spend. They don’t realize that slightly lower taxes now can encourage more businesses to open or expand in NH, thus increasing tax revenue in the future.

HB 370 would repeal school choice for lower income families. The current Education Tax Credit allows businesses to donate money to a scholarship organization, and then take a partial credit against their business taxes for their donation. The scholarships are targeted toward families with below-average income. Recipients can send their kids to a public charter school, to a different public school, or to a private or parochial school.

Democrats proposed HB 370 to repeal the Education Tax Credit. For a party that claims to believe in a woman’s right to choose, the Democrats oppose a woman’s right to choose what school to send her children to. They think the government should make that choice for her, based solely on her zip code, not on what is best for her children. They claim that the program costs money that should be spent on public schools, but the fiscal analysis shows that repealing the program will actually cost the state money.

The repeal probably will pass the House on a party line vote. If you believe in lower-income families having more choice about which school is best for their children, there is still time for you to contact your Reps and ask them to oppose this bill.

The week of February 19-22, there will be another 113 public hearings, and the House will vote on 74 more bills. Here are some of the more interesting hearings:

Tuesday, 2/19 10:30 in LOB (Legislative Office Building) room 201 – HB 617, increasing the gasoline tax and registration fees. Anyone who wants to testify can just show up and sign in, then wait your turn.

Wednesday, 2/20 9:15 LOB 102 – SB 183, repealing photo ID for voting.

Thursday 2/21 10:00 in Representatives’ Hall, HB 290 and then HB 609, both having to do with carrying firearms. They obviously expect a very large turnout to have scheduled Reps’ Hall instead of a normal LOB committee room.

HB 290 would prohibit unlicensed persons from openly carrying a pistol or revolver in a public building. The sponsors clearly don’t understand this simple truth: law-abiding citizens obey the law, criminals ignore the law. Criminals don’t openly carry weapons; they carry concealed without a license. This bill would take defensive weapons away from the good guys and do nothing to take guns away from the bad guys.

HB 609 would allow the voters of each school district to authorize licensed school employees to carry a concealed weapon on school property. We all hope that the occasion will never arise where a criminal intent on mass murder makes his way into a school, but if the unthinkable happens, would you want a licensed school employee to be able to stop the murderer? This bill does not mandate concealed weapons; it lets the voters of each district make that decision. This is local control as it should be. One other point – some bad guys will be deterred just by the thought that some adults might be armed, even if in fact nobody is actually armed.

In the coming weeks we will learn more about Governor Hassan’s proposed budget. Already it is apparent that her revenue estimates are unrealistically high. Legislators will have to make some hard spending choices that she avoided making.

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