Down in Concord

“You cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest.” — Ambrose Bierce
“Politics was never meant to be a profession.” — Duane Alan Hahn

Down in Concord, last week and next week seem fairly quiet, with no sessions either week. But it only seems quiet. The House and Senate finished acting on their own bills but now the surviving bills have crossed over – House bills to the Senate, Senate bills to the House – and the process starts all over.

The House started with 604 bills. It killed 248, passed 229, and “retained” 127. Just what is “retained”, you ask. Most bills are short, just a page or two long. And most bills are not brand new laws; they are modifications to existing laws. So most of the text of a bill is the current law with changes marked to show how the law would read if the bill is passed. It usually doesn’t take long to understand what a bill will do.

Some bills are longer and take more time to understand. Sometimes a bill is short and easy to understand but members are uncertain as to whether it is good or bad. Often they want to study what other states do in their laws, or read some analyses. When a committee wants more time to consider a bill it asks the full House to retain the bill. The committee works on the bill in the Spring and Fall, makes a recommendation in late Fall, and the House votes next January.

The Senate started with 202 bills. It killed 36, passed 147, and rereferred 19. “Rereferred” is the Senate’s word for “retained”. What surprised me in these numbers is that the Senate passed a much, much higher percentage of its bills than did the House. In the House the numbers killed and passed were roughly equal, and that was my impression also from the last two years. The Senate passed four times as many as it killed. I have not looked at previous bienniums (biennia?) to see if this is normal for the Senate.

Now the House is dealing with the 147 bills that passed the Senate and the Senate is dealing with the 229 bills that passed the House. The Senate now has more work to do in less time than at the start of the year – and three of those bills are the huge budget bills. The House has many fewer bills than it started the year with, so it will have some time to deal with its retained bills.

So, now that I have bored you with some of the arcane details of how our legislature does its work, what is happening next week? Not much. Down in Concord it’s fairly quiet. What!? Did I just waste four hundred words and precious minutes of your time only to repeat what I said in the beginning?

Okay, it’s not all that quiet. The House has 47 public hearings; the Senate 15. Every bill is interesting to someone, but most of these bills will be interesting to fairly few people. There are three bills that might be interesting to more than a few people – possibly even to a great many people.

The Senate is hearing HB 399, establishing the New Hampshire liberty act. This bill passed the House with an overwhelming bi-partisan vote because many people on both sides of the aisle are outraged by an assault on our rights. The federal National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2012 authorizes the arrest and indefinite detention without trial of American citizens on American soil. HB 399 declares that the NDAA violates many Constitutional rights, prohibits the State of New Hampshire from participating in any such arrests, and urges the Attorney General to file suit challenging the Constitutionality of that law.

The House has a public hearing on SB 126, a special interest bill for car dealers. Auto manufacturers require as part of their contracts with dealers that the dealers periodically do things that the car dealers say are stupid, that cost lots of money, and that don’t help sell cars. The car dealers don’t like these contracts and are asking the legislature to change the law to make parts of their contracts illegal. Gee, I wonder if ordinary people could get a law making parts of our contracts illegal, e.g. an auto purchase agreement is illegal unless it includes lifetime gasoline and free service?

House leaders expect a huge crowd for the hearing on SB 152, authorizing Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas to build one casino in Salem, NH. That is not precisely what the bill states but it might as well be. The wording, said to have been written by Millennium’s lobbyists, is so restrictive and the bill has such tight deadlines that it is impossible for any other potential casino company to compete against Millennium.

Members of both parties are divided on the general question of casino gambling. On specifically this bill, some members are asking, “How come only Salem? How about Manchester or how about the North Country?” Other members oppose the idea of granting a monopoly to one specific company. If gambling is a good thing then allow it anywhere; if it is bad prohibit it everywhere. If this bill is passed, it will be legal to play poker at the casino, but illegal to play poker in your own home.