Hey, N.H. legislators, what did you accomplish this year?
Representatives listen as a prayer is read before business begins on the first day of the legislative session at the State House in Concord on Wednesday, January 6, 2010. (Concord Monitor photo/Katie Barnes)
We asked state lawmakers from the area to tell us what they were most proud of from the recently finished legislative session: a particular bill passed or killed, a persuasive speech they made, an important measure they got added to (or extracted from) the state budget. We were especially interested in measures that might have escaped public attention amid the budget and casino debates. Here’s what we learned:
Tabling a measure I believed in
As a newly-elected representative, I had to do a great deal of listening and learning.
One action I took was controversial, but I would do it again, if necessary. I had many thank me from both sides of the issue for making a motion to table House Resolution 6.
This resolution commemorated the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade. It was well-written and affirmed a woman’s right to privacy if she chooses to obtain a safe and legal abortion. I agreed with all it outlined, as I am strongly pro-choice.
However, a House resolution carries no weight of law. A majority vote for the resolution would have the House speak in one voice. There are many caring people on both sides of this issue and it is a very difficult issue for some.
Though I believe there is a pro-choice majority in the New Hampshire House, I also believe it would have caused unnecessary divisiveness at a time when we were all trying hard to come together and move forward on the bills brought forward through our committee work.
Sometimes we need to show respect for others’ opinions and invest our energy coming together and making good laws. This is how many of us campaigned and were elected by our constituents. We won’t always agree, we understand, but consideration for each other will be good for New Hampshire.
Democratic Rep. CHRISTY DOLAT BARTLETT
Merrimack County District 19 (Concord Ward 10)
New relief for patients in pain
I am proudest of my work on legislation permitting the use of therapeutic cannabis for chronically ill patients. This new law will lower the cost of pain control and provide a long-overdue alternative to patients who have been unable to obtain relief through other means. Though this bill had a relatively smooth path through the Legislature – particularly so given its subject matter – the final bill was the product of months of negotiations between the Legislature, the governor’s office and outside interests on both sides of this debate.
I was also pleased to sponsor and help pass SB 197 which corrects an oversight in current law related to water and sewer commission budgets. Until recently, water and sewer commission budgets could not stand alone as warrant articles in SB 2 towns because there was no mechanism in place to create a default budget for those items. Meaning, if a proposed budget failed at the ballot box, no money could be spent by the commission because no budget was approved and no default position was in place. My legislation corrects this problem – first brought to my attention by constituents in Allenstown – by allowing for the creation of default water and sewer budgets thus allowing them to be examined and voted on individually by town residents. Though somewhat obscure, this law will lead to additional transparency and allow for sound budgeting practices in the state’s SB 2 towns.
Republican Sen. JOHN REAGAN
District 17 (Loudon, Epsom, Pittsfield, Chichester, Pembroke, Allenstown, Northwood, Deerfield and several other communities in Rockingham and Strafford counties.)
A new look at legislative ethics rules
New Hampshire is not unique in struggling with how to deal with ethical issues, but we are somewhat unique in that we have a citizen legislature made up of unpaid volunteers. This creates some interesting ethical dilemmas.
Because we do not receive a salary, many legislators work outside of the Legislature or are dependent on outside sources of income. One alternative would be to prohibit legislators from voting on any issue in which they have a direct or indirect conflict of interest. However, it is often not easy to determine where having knowledge about a subject crosses the line of having a personal interest in the outcome. Another alternative would be to make legislators full time and pay them a living wage. That would avoid many of the potential conflicts of interest. But with 400 members, even minimum wage would constitute a significant cost.
Historically, the rule in New Hampshire has been to prohibit a legislator from voting on an issue in which the legislator has a conflict of interest unless the conflict is disclosed. The theory of this rule is that by requiring disclosure, the voters can decide whether a conflict in any particular case is sufficiently egregious to justify voting for someone else in the next election. Whether this rule that has been in effect for 22 years comports with current notions of legislative independence is open to debate.
The Legislative Administration Committee decided that it was time to review our ethical guidelines, including what constitutes a permissible gift. HB 410 creates a commission to look at legislative ethics and report to the Legislature whether fundamental changes are required.
Democratic Rep. GARY B. RICHARDSON
Merrimack County District 10 (Hopkinton and Concord Ward 5)
More money for drug treatment
I led the effort to get an additional $250,000 per year for the drug and alcohol fund. The treatment and prevention of drug and alcohol abuse in New Hampshire is extremely important. Gov. Maggie Hassan provided funding for existing treatment contracts, and the House supported her position. I worked with my colleagues to get support for the additional funding for prevention. It is a very small step in the right direction to get funding to this very serious problem in New Hampshire.
I worked at Odyssey House, a residential treatment program for youth years ago, so I know firsthand the importance of funding these programs.
I also had language added to House Bill 2, relative to the restricted use of EBT cards. I held a roundtable discussion with welfare administrators in my district in my last term and listened to their concerns about the abuse of EBT cards. EBT cards can no longer be used at adult-oriented entertainment, liquor stores, gaming establishments or off-premises retail licensees that sell primarily beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages.
Additionally, SB 99 was a long time coming. I worked on similar legislation in the last session that was killed. This legislation calls for the study of the Site Evaluation Committee and its roles, responsibilities, processes, funding, etc. The bill also calls for creating siting criteria for energy facilities in New Hampshire.
Republican Sen. JEANIE FORRESTER
District 2 (Wilmot, Danbury, Hill, Tilton, Sanbornton, Meredith, New Hampton, Bristol and
numerous communities in Grafton County.)
Towns reimbursed for flood control
A significant but little-known piece of legislation that passed was HB 581 sponsored by Rep. Mario Ratzki, and I was one of the co-sponsors. This bill had a positive impact on 17 communities in the Merrimack River and Connecticut River Flood Control Compacts.
Dams were constructed on many rivers and watersheds in the compact communities to control water flow down river. More than 20,000 acres (i.e., homes, farmlands and, in several cases, entire villages) were taken in order to provide this flood control, which resulted not only in the loss of land but also the accompanying property tax revenue.
The compact agreed to compensate the towns based on the value of the land lost. The state of New Hampshire is responsible to pay the affected communities and then seek reimbursement from Massachusetts. But recently Massachusetts has not been reimbursing New Hampshire. Consequently, the 2010 state budget no longer compensated the full amount to the communities.
This benefited the state but shortchanged the affected local taxpayers, creating a shortfall in local budgets.
HB 581 corrects this downshifting of reimbursement to the 17 communities. The attorney general’s office is now directed to secure the funds from Massachusetts or the reimbursement will come from the AG’s budget. Here are a few samples of the positive, projected impact for the 17 communities: Hopkinton, $199,326; Henniker, $87,340; Salisbury, $85,568; Dunbarton, $63,570; and Weare, $59,677.
Democratic Rep. MEL MYLER
Merrimack County District 10 (Hopkinton and Concord Ward 5)
Standing my ground, honoring Winant
I’m proud to be the prime sponsor of HB 135. This bill would have repealed New Hampshire’s version of “Stand Your Ground” and returned our state to the self-defense law that was in effect for the previous 40 years.
I’m equally proud to be the prime sponsor of HB 262. This bill forms a joint legislative committee to help facilitate the construction of a permanent memorial to the late Gov. John Winant.
The memorial would be constructed using no public funds. It is my goal to have a stature of. Winant finished in time for Concord’s 250th anniversary in 2015.
Democratic Rep. STEVE SHURTLEFF
Merrimack County District 11 (Penacook)
I helped increase aid for higher education
As the Senate Democratic leader, I was proud to work successfully with our governor and Senate Republicans to achieve a bipartisan, balanced budget which increased support for higher education – including the UNIQUE scholarship program I helped to create – mental health, caring for children in need, and conservation, all without creating new taxes or fees.
I was also honored to sponsor a new program called “Pathway to Work” which supports unemployed people who want to create their own opportunities by helping them start their own business.
In addition, I helped push for the construction of a new women’s prison to relieve extreme crowding and provide the education and counseling services that will help women stay out of prison and to lead more productive lives.
As always, I kept a focus on local Capital Area priorities. Working with a Republican colleague in the Senate, I was thrilled to create a new bus service between Concord and the Manchester airport. This helps our airport, our economy and people throughout the region who seek inexpensive travel options.
My efforts to increase city-state communication and local control included such diverse work as Concord Steam, National Guard federal projects and the Penacook incinerator.
Continuing a focus on our economy and improving communities, I look forward to our state accepting expanded Medicaid coverage, reinvesting in highway infrastructure, and supporting job creation.
Democratic Sen. SYLVIA LARSEN
District 15 (Concord, Hopkinton, Henniker and Warner)
I helped modernize corporate laws
When I ran for the Senate, I wanted to bring common-sense business principles to Concord. To me, that means working with both parties to solve problems, being careful with taxpayers money and focusing on things people really care about, such as economic growth and job creation.
I worked with Republicans to modernize New Hampshire’s corporate law, making it easier to create businesses and spur job growth. I helped pass a bipartisan law to protect restaurants and other service-industry businesses from higher taxes on tipped wages – taxes they can’t afford and which could hurt
I also worked with a Republican colleague to streamline regulations by combining several different permits into one, which will save time and expense for businesses, while keeping all of the same environmental protections in place.
To help our region, I crafted a new rule that will keep boating fees for their intended purpose of promoting water safety, instead of being raided by the Legislature. This will help to support the tourism that is so important to the economy of our region.
I was also proud to help pass a balanced budget that ended the developmental disability wait list, increased support for education and stabilized funding for community mental heath organizations – all without creating new taxes or fees.
Overall, I was glad to help get Concord back to working together on solving problems and moving our state forward.
District 7 (Laconia, Franklin, Webster, Boscawen, Canterbury, Gilford, Belmont, Northfield, Andover and Salisbury)
Plumbers, gas fitters boards will merge
One significant accomplishment was to merge the plumbers licensing board with the gas fitters.
There’s a lot of overlap between these two groups, so I – and the plumbers and gas fitters – believed that consolidation would simplify licensing and regulation. With better efficiency, it’s likely that license fees will be reduced as well.
I co-sponsored, worked in committee, and spoke for SB 189, which besides the consolidation allowed the board to establish lower fees for small business licenses and decreased the necessary training for gas fitters from 5000 hours of field experience to 1,000 hours.
When the gas fitters’ license was first established in 2007, the required training level was unknown, and 5,000 hours (over two years, working full time) was the guess established by the fire marshal. After more than five years of licensing, we’ve learned that 5,000 hours is excessive to start someone in a job as a gas fitter. Of course, they get better with experience, but 1,000 hours of field work, after completing the classroom training, is enough to ensure that they work competently and safely.
Finally, SB 189 includes all the protections homeowners and property owners have in current law to do plumbing repairs and maintenance on their own property. This was a last-minute fix, since the original bill had the allowances for home gas fitting, which are much more restrictive than for plumbing!
Republican Rep. CAROL McGUIRE
Merrimack County District 29 (Allenstown, Epsom and Pittsfield)
Having won and lost elections, I believe it’s important to hear what voters are really saying. Last fall, voters said they wanted a more moderate and bipartisan Legislature, and we achieved this goal. The final state budget had unprecedented bipartisan support: 337 House members voted for passage and only 18 members voted against!
HB 242 has not received a lot of publicity, but in the upcoming years could very well save lives and prevent injuries of New Hampshire 6-year-olds.
I am proud to have been the prime sponsor to increase the age of children using safety seats from the current age of 5 and younger (exempt if 55 inches tall) to 6 years (exempt if 57 inches tall). National Best Practices is 7 and younger or 57 inches tall, as was my original legislation. The Senate agreed; the House disagreed so we reached a compromise to benefit the safety of New Hampshire 6-year-olds!
SB 100 is the bill I’m most proud that we killed. If passed, employers could choose to pay employees with either a cash card or direct deposit and remove the current option of a paper check and the ability for workers to cash it with no fee. We realized the money to be made by the card companies when the prime lobbyist flew a woman out from California to testify twice for only a few minutes. We killed it in the House but the Senate attached it to a non-related bill. The other bill may be important in future years (employers accessing Facebook passwords), but we felt it was more important to let both bills go rather than pass SB 100.
Democratic Rep. SALLY KELLY
Merrimack County District 20 (Chichester and Pembroke)
The return of civility
This is only my second term as a state representative; I served my first under Speaker Bill O’Brien.
I am most pleased about the changed atmosphere that prevails in the House this term. Proper process is being followed. There is consistency and fairness in the application of rules. The mixed seating has allowed members of both parties to get to know each other better and has fostered cooperation and collaboration. There are many fewer offensive emails sent through the “All Reps” legislative mail system – both to constituents and to each other. There is a feeling of collegiality and respect. We may not always agree, but we more often listen to each other now.
There have been fewer extreme pieces of legislation filed and passed. And although there are still those who hold extreme views, they get less support when votes are taken.
We must thank the leadership of both parties for this refreshing change.
In November, the voters spoke clearly. They wanted civility and common sense returned to Concord. I’m pleased to say that, in my opinion, they have gotten what they asked for.
Democratic Rep. MARJORIE PORTER
Hillsborough County District 1 (Hillsboro, Antrim and Windsor)
A good budget, help for troubled kids, less red tape
1. I sat on the House Finance Committee and worked to develop the first state budget in years that gained bipartisan support in passage. My Division of the Finance Committee worked to improve funding of the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, increased funding for state environmental grants for those projects on the delayed and deferred list, and funded a new scholarship program for members of the New Hampshire National Guard.
2. I was involved with the adoption of new CHINS (Children in Need of Services) legislation that re-instates the program that had been cut in the last biennium while adding “voluntary treatment options.” I shepherded the bill through the Finance Committee and sat on the conference committee.
3. I sponsored legislation for the city of Concord that allowed writs to be served on the city manager instead of the mayor,- reducing bureaucratic red tape and making the system more manageable for citizens.
Democratic Rep. KATHERINE ROGERS
Merrimack County District 29 (Concord Wards 8, 9 and 10)
We helped modernize the liquor commission
One unheralded accomplishment this year was a major overhaul of the laws concerning the liquor commission. We both served on the committee investigating liquor commission scandals last year and sponsored and worked on a number of bills as a result.
Primarily, HB 599 establishes a single liquor commissioner, to promote accountability. A transition strategy ensures that the current commissioners will continue to serve, the chairman as the single commissioner and the second commissioner as his deputy (fortunately, one seat is vacant at the moment). HB 599 also established professional qualifications for the commissioner, rather than the sole current requirement: that all three commissioners not be from the same political party!
HB 254, abolishing three positions, simply cleans up after the 2009 reorganization: new positions had been created for the division directors, but the existing “chief” positions were kept in place. That gave the commission three extra positions to play with, which wasn’t anyone’s intent at all.
HB 686, on liquor commission contracts, is also cleanup from 2009’s modernization, when the commission was granted authority to contract on anything, with absolutely no oversight by anyone. HB 686 requires major contracts, as for advertising, warehousing, and transportation, to be reviewed by the attorney general and approved by the governor and council.
HB 225, clarifying the commission’s rule-making authority, limits the commissioners’ authority to make rules. It repeals their broad authority to make rules about anything concerning liquor, and specifies that they need to make rules about what they sell, licensing procedures, and how they operate.
Republican Reps. DAN and CAROL McGUIRE
Merrimack County Districts 29 and 21(Allenstown, Epsom and Pittsfield)
Fairness, equity, balance
Being part of the Legislature is not (or shouldn’t be) about personal accomplishments. It should always be about creating a harmonious relationship among elected officials with the aim of working toward solutions for the people of New Hampshire, rather than to the benefit of any one particular group or philosophy. My goal is always fairness, equity and balance, and I shall continue as a member of the House to use those words as my motivation.
Democratic Rep. LEIGH A. WEBB
Merrimack County District 3 (Franklin and Northfield)
Five for five
I’m happy I appear to be batting five for five, as all five bills I sponsored or co-sponsored this session are on their way to the governor’s desk:
∎ HB 204, relative to the removal of Social Security and other numbers from registry of deeds documents available on the internet, and relative to background checks for county employees.
∎ HB 403, establishing a committee to study end-of-life decisions.
∎ HB 542, relative to the renewable energy fund and regulation of telephone, Voice Over Internet Protocol, and IP-enabled service providers and relative to electric renewable portfolio standards.
∎ SB 163, establishing a commission to recommend legislation to prepare for projected sea level rise and other coastal and coastal watershed hazards.
∎ SB 170, relative to advance directives pertaining to life-sustaining treatment.
Democratic Rep. RICK WATROUS
Merrimack County District 16 (Concord Ward 7)
New hope for rest areas, disabled legislators
I submitted four bills, one of which was killed. It would have studied State House security. I thought capitol security guards should be allowed to carry weapons to defend themselves. The officers have no protection, should someone from the public cause problems. They are the first to respond until the state or Concord Police arrive.
A second bill creates a committee to study the possibility of re-staffing state rest areas that have closed. It is awaiting Gov. Maggie Hassan’s signature. I am concerned especially with Epsom. A person can’t pull off the road there to rest or get out for a walk. My idea was to treat these like the Adopt-A-Highway program; perhaps nonprofit groups, churches, schools, etc., could work together to reopen closed areas, offering people a chance to use the rest rooms, get a cup of coffee or even buy New Hampshire products.
A third bill establishes a commission to study accessibility for the physically disabled within the State House. It is awaiting Hassan’s signature. The idea originated in the previous session, when you got very little time to go to the rest room. When you have a disability, it takes time to get out of your seat, go to the rest rooms and then hurry back. The same applies if you wish to go to cafeteria or to the vending machines.
It is also difficult to contact the speaker if you are seated in the rear of the hall. For we who are disabled, it would be easier if a button was added to the box that we use to vote, to indicate to the speaker we wish to be recognized.
My fourth bill would have recognized President Franklin Pierce’s birthday – not as a holiday, only as a recognition day. However, it was tabled.
Democratic Rep. DICK PATTEN
Merrimack County District 17 (Concord Ward 8)
A good year for education
In December 2012, I was honored to be asked to chair the House Education Committee. The 2013 legislative session provided many learning experiences as well as the opportunity to work with representatives committed to ensuring a high quality education for all New Hampshire students. A snapshot of our work together follows.
The committee met in early January for orientation: New Hampshire Education 101. Speakers from the Department of Education, higher education, the superintendents and school boards associations, the SEA-NH, AFT-NH and others presented on important education topic. Public hearings started the next week.
Bills included policies on school transportation, chartered public schools, student athletics, mathematics, catastrophic and building aid, changes in high-school equivalency degrees, higher education and the allowance of academic credit for students’ military occupation, training, coursework and experience.
The committee heard 52 House and Senate bills.
Special highlights included conferring degree-granting authority to the American University of Madaba in Jordan and receiving the waiver approval from No Child Left Behind.
The American University at Madaba in Jordan is one of three international universities with degree-granting authority conferred by the Legislature and subject to the approval of the New Hampshire Higher Education Commission. The others are in Greece and Italy; together, they represent an exciting initiative in New Hampshire higher education.
Committee members worked hard on two bills related to waiver approval: teacher evaluation, and school performance and accountability. Both had to be passed by the 2013 Legislature. Success was due to the bipartisan spirit of committee legislators working in cooperation with the Department of Education and ultimately the entire Legislature.
It was a terrific way to end the 2013 session.
Democratic Rep. MARY STUART GILE
Merrimack County District 27 (Concord Wards 1-4, 6-7)
Helping towns, rethinking election law, freeing slaves
When I ran for election in 2012 in a new floterial House district, I never dreamed that I might be voting to free slaves. I anticipated legislation on taxes because taxes, especially the income tax, are all “hot button” issues. Freeing slaves was not an issue that came up while I was campaigning, but it was one of the votes I made.
House Bill 581, which I cosponsored, finally legislated money for towns that were promised compensation for flood mitigation from our neighboring state. The money never came. Now New Hampshire will make sure those towns are compensated.
I cosponsored several pieces of legislation, all of which passed, on state election law: absentee ballot counting, election paperwork for the state archives and a study committee to review all of our election laws with the input of town clerks and moderators, the folks who enforce election laws.
I am honored to be the chairperson for a subcommittee on a bill retained by the State and Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee, Senate Bill 88. I am also serving as a member of the Nonprofit Subcommittee of the House Democratic Business Caucus. The nonprofit community is a job creator in New Hampshire.
As I visit businesses and advisory groups in the towns I serve, I look for and value the feedback from citizens. This feedback guides me in making my legislative decisions. I look forward to hearing from more constituents and working positively with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle this next legislative session.
Democratic Rep. LORRIE CAREY
Merrimack County District 26 (Boscawen, Canterbury, Franklin Ward 3, Loudon and Northfield)