Mileage payments become point of contention over House Democrats’ caucus
Political junkies tuning in to this afternoon’s casino debate in the New Hampshire House may have noticed two Republicans asking Speaker Terie Norelli at the beginning of the debate about something involving mileage. She ruled it out of order, and the House moved on to discuss Senate Bill 152.
After the casino bill was killed, more Republicans asked about it.
Here’s what was going on:
State law allows legislators to be paid mileage reimbursement for “miles actually traveled while on legislative business.” But last month, Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, asked House members to limit their travel to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“Please remember that mileage reimbursement will only be paid for travel on Mondays and Fridays for statutory committees which meet on those days,” Norelli wrote in the April 26 edition of the House Calendar.
But this Monday, House Democrats held a closed-door caucus that didn’t appear in last week’s calendar. Norelli’s spokesman, Mario Piscatella, said the caucus was held to discuss the casino bill, with members on both sides of the issue presenting their views followed by a discussion.
He described it as an “education and informational session on a complex piece of legislation before the body. This is a normal practice.”
And 78 Democratic representatives had their names checked off on a “Legislator Travel Verification for Mileage Reimbursement” form for Monday, listing the reason as “caucus.” (Ten more representatives — six Republicans and four Democrats — had other reasons listed for mileage reimbursement Monday.)
The apparent conflict between Norelli’s no-Monday-mileage rule and Monday’s Democratic caucus led a couple of GOP representatives to ask about it on the floor early this afternoon. And the issue came back after the casino debate ended, with four GOP representatives in succession grilling Norelli about it. Rep. George Lambert, a Litchfield Republican, pointedly asked how much the caucus cost the taxpayers.
Norelli said the no-mileage rule was intended to keep down expenses, not keep lawmakers from doing their jobs. There have been a number of exceptions, she said, including both Democratic and Republican leadership meetings. And had Republicans held a caucus, they would have received the same reimbursement, she said.
Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, didn’t have an immediate comment on the flap. But for the record, he was one of the 10 representatives who listed non-caucus reasons for mileage reimbursement Monday.
“Leadership traditionally gets paid,” he explained.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)