Down in Concord

“To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals.”
– Mark Twain

The House and Senate are winding down. The House meets in a short session May 29 to deal with a dozen bills it did not get to last week due to lengthy debate on bills such as the casino gambling bill. You probably heard that it was defeated by a large margin. I had thought the vote would be close.

Of the roughly 800 bills at the start of the year, the Governor has signed 32. Another 137 have passed both the House and Senate and are on their way to or on the Governor’s desk awaiting her signature.

House and Senate committees are still considering some 30 bills, including the two huge budget bills. The deadline for the House or Senate to vote on all bills is June 6. Then they have three weeks to resolve differences between House versions and Senate versions. June 27th, if everything goes according to plan, the legislature will have finished all its business and the people will again be safe. (“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”)

Technically, the legislature is in session 24/7. It never adjourns; it goes into recess. Huh?  “Wait a minute,” you say. “I’ve heard motions to adjourn.” Ah, but you only think you heard motions to adjourn. They weren’t really motions to adjourn. Well, sort of.

One of the surprising things the House does as the first item of business every session day is a motion to adjourn. Huh? At the beginning of the day it adjourns??? Yep. And at the end of the day there is a second motion to adjourn, but it doesn’t really adjourn. What you see when hundreds of members are present and conducting business, that is what is called the “early” session. At the end of the day, the House adjourns from the early session, only to enter the “late” session.

When the House meets, usually on a Wednesday, the first thing it does is adjourn from the previous late session. Then it begins the early session. At the end of the day, the House adjourns from the early session, and enters the late session. At that time, you may occasionally hear a speech or two on “unanimous consent”, often to memorialize some person(s).

Last week, members spoke about Memorial Day. By all appearances those speeches were part of that day’s session. But the early session had actually adjourned; those remarks were part of the late session. At the end of the day, the House recessed. As of this writing, the House is still in the late session of May 22, and will continue that day’s session until it adjourns at the beginning of May 29, to begin a new session day.

So why is there a late session? Why is the House still in session on a Sunday? The House actually conducts legislative business during the late session. If you listen carefully at the end of day (when the House has adjourned from the early session, and is in the late session) there is a motion to recess for “purposes of … enrolled bill amendments, enrolled bill reports …”.

After a bill has passed both the House and Senate, it goes through the enrolled bill process. A team of lawyers in the Office of Legislative Services (OLS), carefully examines every word, every piece of punctuation. On occasion there is a misspelling, wrong punctuation, two words run together, or some sort of tiny error. If they find an error, they write an amendment to fix it. The OLS staff cannot fix substantive errors but they can fix tiny errors that do not affect the meaning of a bill.

To be more precise, the OLS staff cannot by themselves even dot an “i” or cross a “t”. They can draft an amendment but only the legislature can approve the amendment. The House and the Senate have to vote on the amendment. Even if the OLS staff find no errors, the House and Senate have to vote on the report that there are no errors.

One of the neat things about the late session is that a mere two members can act for the entire body of 400 Representatives (or 24 Senators). One member acts as the Speaker of the House, the other member acts for the entire House. One day I happened to be in the Legislative Office Building (LOB) after most other Reps had left, when a staff member and one of my colleagues entered with some paperwork and said, “Oh, there’s a member.” My colleague told me I was about to be the House; he was the temporary Speaker. He called the House (i.e. me) to order, recognized me to offer an Enrolled Bill Amendment, and then to vote on it. Then he declared the House in recess. The same thing happened on the Senate side, then the bill headed to the Governor’s desk.

The late session allows for small but important business to be conducted between “real” sessions.

Down in Concord

“The difference between a politician and a pickpocket is that the pickpocket doesn’t get indignant when you tell him to keep his hands to himself.” — Joseph Sobran

The big news down in Concord is the gambling bill, SB 152. Of course, when I say “big news” what I mean is big political news because for most people anything political is by definition not important. Most of the time even the biggest political news is small potatoes compared to other news.

The special committee for this bill voted by the slimmest margin (23-22) that SB 152 was Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL). The full house will vote Wednesday, May 22, on the committee recommendation. Nobody is predicting which way the vote will go. Democrats are divided – the committee chairman wrote the report opposing the bill; a division chairman wrote the report in support. Republicans are similarly divided. The vote will be bipartisan for and against.

If members were to vote on the general idea of allowing a casino, they might vote yes. But they won’t be voting on an idea; they will be voting on a specific 41-page bill – and opponents think that the words of that bill are badly flawed.

Supporters of the bill claim that SB 152 would authorize “the licensing of one highly regulated, high-end destination casino through a competitive bidding process.” Opponents counter that the claim is laughable:

  1. it won’t be highly regulated because the regulatory process cannot be completed in time for the contract-signing timeline specified in the bill;
  2. it won’t be “high-end” at all because the money proposed to be spent on the casino is less than half what has been required for high-end casinos elsewhere;
  3. the bidding process is anything but competitive because the language of the bill was written by one particular bidder, Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas, and the terms cannot be satisfied by another bidder.

One of the sponsors of the bill stated that casino gambling would be similar to the lottery – there was much opposition in the beginning but it worked out okay. A major difference is that lottery machines are allowed in thousands of businesses all over the state. A casino would be a state-protected monopoly allowed in just one place. The monopoly aspect is one of the main reasons many members oppose the bill. There might be much more support for a bill that said slot machines (and other forms of gambling) were allowed anywhere with the payment of an up-front tax and a share of the take.

Supporters say that the casino would bring in tens of millions of dollars in new revenue. Opponents respond that it would reduce revenue from existing sources. Very few casino customers would come from Massachusetts where there will be bigger and brighter casinos. The customers would be NH citizens spending their money in slot machines instead of at local restaurants, theaters, and other entertainment sources. That would mean less Meals & Rentals tax receipts and less business tax revenue.

They say the casino would create many jobs. During construction it would, but those could very well be jobs for Massachusetts workers. The proposed casino location is very close to the Mass border and workers could easily commute from Mass instead of being NH workers. Later, when the casino is in operation, it would hurt jobs in existing businesses. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston advises that a casino “may have no net ancillary economic impacts. Residents patronizing such casinos may simply substitute gambling for other goods and services.”

Supporters promise that there will be so much extra revenue that it will pay for widening I-93, and will fund school building aid, higher education, uncompensated hospital care, and economic development assistance to the North Country. To which another Democrat at the public hearing responded, “Poppycock.” Even if casino gambling brought in all the money the supporters imagine with none of the costly side effects that opponents fear, it still would not fund all of those. It might do a little here, a little there, but it could not do all of them. It would be roughly a 1% increase in state revenue.

Governor Hassan has been inviting freshmen Democrat representatives for one-on-one chats. If she is like too many politicians she will promise one thing to one representative, something else to another, promising whatever it takes to get the member’s vote, then be unable to deliver on her promises.

In July, 2009, Governor Lynch created a Gaming Study Commission (GSC). In May, 2010, the commission issued a 170 page report. One wonders if the authors of SB 152 ever read that report. In the short time that the House committee has been evaluating the bill, the committee discovered all sorts of problems. They had time enough to identify problems but one month was not enough time to find solutions.

Wise representatives will remind themselves of the old saying “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Rushing to pass a bill in the hope of receiving money quickly, instead of taking the time to fix the bill, is setting up the state for big problems later on.

UPDATE: The House voted 199-164 to kill the bill. I expected a closer vote.

“to keep them in perpetual childhood”

There are those who think that government should take care of everyone, that it should act like a parent. In his great masterpiece Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville almost 200 years ago foresaw how that might turn out.

It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.

For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.

The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

In that section of the book, de Tocqueville was pondering how a democracy might turn into a despotism. A short way to put it is “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take everything you have.” (attributed incorrectly to Thomas Jefferson)

Poll: Two-thirds think government is out of control

Most voters, knowing that the IRS has targeted conservatives and has spied on reporters, think that “the federal government has gotten out of control and is threatening the basic civil liberties of Americans.”

68% of all voters, three-quarters of Independents, and almost half of Democrats agree that “Uncle Sam is taking liberties with their liberties.” Among Republicans the result was 86%; among Tea Partiers a full 92%.

In other poll results:

  • A record number, 48%, think that Obama is not honest and trustworthy
  • A plurality, 49%, including 25% of Democrats, say Obama is a lame duck
  • More than twice as many, 36% vs. 15%, rank Obama’s leadership skills as “poor”, not “excellent”

This is all too believable

When the Benghazi crisis unfolded, Obama surrounded himself with people who had even less experience and expertise than himself. His advisors are for the most part 1) good with words; 2) focused on politics; and 3) revere Obama.

Obama prefers to be surrounded by politically astute sycophants who are in way over their heads and don’t realize it. That way he is less likely to be threatened or challenged.

Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor has a Master’s degree in fiction writing. He has absolutely no education in national security, no military experience, no international experience. But he is a talented speechwriter. And so he helps make foreign policy.

All of Obama’s other close advisors, including Hillary and Obama himself, are political types with no expertise in foreign policy or national security.

So they are a bunch of rank amateurs who literally have no idea what they were doing except in the political sense. And then when things went bad, they lied about it—using their words to try to get out of a jam, with the help of their friends in the MSM. It’s worked for them in the past, and might well work again.

Chronic back pain often curable with antibiotics

“Up to 40% of patients with chronic back pain could be cured with a course of antibiotics rather than surgery“. Medical researchers after 10 years of hard work discovered that many cases of lower back pain are caused by bacterial infection.

A leading spinal surgeon said “the discovery was the greatest he had witnessed in his professional life, and that its impact on medicine was worthy of a Nobel prize.”