CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff released the following statement on the fiscally responsible, bipartisan compromise budget deal:
“While this compromise agreement does not include everything that either side wanted, it is a fiscally responsible, bipartisan plan that will support the priorities that are critical to New Hampshire’s families and businesses and keep our economy moving forward.”
“After months of talks, I’m grateful that both sides were able to come together on a compromise that maintains our commitment to our state employees and ensures that business tax cuts will not come at the expense of critical priorities like combating substance abuse, mental health, economic development, and public safety.”
“While we still have much work to do including re-authorizing our state’s successful Medicaid expansion program, I’m appreciative of the hard work of Governor Hassan and members of both parties in getting this deal done.”
If you’re looking to sum up the awfulness of the 2011-12 New Hampshire Legislature, recent deliberations in the case of state Senate candidate Joshua Youssef by the House Redress of Grievances Committee give you everything you need to know. Consider:
• The committee heard a one-sided account of Youssef’s bitter custody fight but chose not to investigate the court record to get a fuller version of the case.
• Based on that one-sided account, the committee voted overwhelmingly to recommend investigating the impeachment of three state judges.
• Based also on that account, committee members – if re-elected – plan to introduce legislation that changes the rules in legal cases involving family disputes.
• The vote might have been even more lopsided, but several Republican committee members abstained because they have endorsed Youssef’s Senate campaign – a campaign he says was inspired by the very case under consideration.
In short, the drama included an “investigation” that limited itself to one half of the story, a dramatic recommendation that smeared the professional reputations of three judges, a plan to change state law without a full appreciation of how the law worked in this case, and a political candidate with a personal vendetta (and a bunch of elected officials who support him).
What a spectacle!
There are bigger questions highlighted by this case too, of course:
• Should the committee have been created in the first place?
The redress committee was re-established by House Speaker Bill O’Brien after lying dormant for generations, ostensibly to serve as a check on the power of the courts and public officials and agencies. Much of what the committee has concerned itself with have been appeals from the losing side in family court matters, convinced that a judge – or multiple judges – did them wrong. (Earlier this summer, the same committee recommended the impeachment of Judge John Arnold, also because it disliked his decision-making in a custody matter.)
In hearing such cases the committee has generated two distinctly terrible impressions: that court cases – even those appealed all the way to the Supreme Court – are never truly over and that judges can be sanctioned by legislators for unpopular rulings.
• Should the committee have been allowed to continue?
At least one committee member has refused to participate altogether. “It goes against the division of powers,” Democratic Rep. Steven Lindsey of Keene told the Keene Sentinel. “I consider it an extra-judicial committee. I feel my presence there would give it an air of respectability, so I haven’t really been going.”
Attorney General Michael Delaney told O’Brien earlier this year that the committee was “targeting those who are simply performing their jobs” as required by state law. Its actions were creating an atmosphere of “fear and persecution” on the part of public employees, particularly those charged with protecting abused and neglected children and settling family disputes.
The current Legislature has passed a lot of poor legislation, but equally troubling has been the heavy-handed process from the Republican leadership – and the relatively feeble protests from GOP members who know better. A year and a half after the creation of the redress committee, where are the strong voices calling for its demise?
There are races for 400 House seats this fall. Candidates will be asked lots of questions by lots of voters. Near the top of the list should be this: Do you support the continued existence of the Redress of Grievances Committee?
Democratic House and Senate leaders held a press conference to review the recent legislative session and how the Republican Majority’s wrong priorities are hurting New Hampshire’s middle-class families.
Below are the prepared remarks:
House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli
Welcome and thank you for joining us this afternoon. I am Terie Norelli, NH House Democratic Leader.
With Veto Day behind us, the people of New Hampshire can breathe a sigh of relief, because we have hopefully, seen the last session day of Speaker Bill O’Brien and his extreme Republican majority.
This Republican majority has had the wrong priorities for New Hampshire’s middle-class families and the wrong priorities for our economy.
Instead of working to strengthen the economy, they pushed an extreme agenda that was more focused on taking away birth control than on helping our families succeed, an agenda that was more focused on hurting the workers in our state than on building for the future of our state.
For the last two years, Bill O’Brien and his Tea Party allies have advanced a laundry list of out-of-touch legislation that shows just how wrong their priorities are for New Hampshire.
Republicans attempted to raise health care costs for families by eliminating guaranteed insurance coverage for birth control.
They enacted the largest single cut to a public university system in the history of the US, resulting in tuition increases at our state colleges and universities of nearly double digits.
They cut aid to local schools, raising local property taxes, even as they plan to send millions in taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools.
And they cut mental health, developmental disabilities and other services that are critical to the lives of Granite Staters, even as they lined the pockets of big tobacco companies.
As we look back at what this Legislature has done, we must also look forward to what they say they will do next.
The threat of Governor Lynch’s veto pen has helped halt some of the most outrageous plans of this Legislature. But now Bill O’Brien is running a full slate of candidates for the State Senate – and Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith have promised their full support to Bill O’Brien.
Next on their agenda is a state takeover of Medicare, which would allow politicians in the New Hampshire Legislature to cut benefits for seniors, increase premiums, and raise the eligibility age.
If Bill O’Brien gets the gavel again, there will be a renewed effort to criminalize doctors and women for abortions, even when the woman is the victim of rape or incest. And they’ll try again to raise health care costs on women by allowing employers to deny birth control coverage.
And Speaker O’Brien has already promised more cuts to critical programs. In fact, they’ve already passed bills this term that will reduce state revenues $150-300M in the next biennium without identifying the services that will be eliminated.
There’s no doubt his cuts will once again target higher education which would put the dream of a college degree out of reach for high school graduates across the state.
These are the wrong priorities for our state’s middle-class families and our economy. New Hampshire can move forward again, if we have common-sense legislators who will focus on seeking middle ground and will work toward solutions that are right for all of our families.
Before I turn it over to Senator Molly Kelly who will begin to review some of the radical and out-of-touch legislation that this Tea Party House has championed over the last year and a half,
I want to talk about the Speaker’s removal of the sole Democratic House Member from a Health Care Panel.
The Speaker has once again moved to limit full public discussion by removing an experienced voice from the table. The Speaker has demonstrated time and time again that he will not tolerate viewpoints that differ from his own opinion, and he dismisses the representative voice of a significant segment of New Hampshire voters.
The Speaker has raised the level of confrontation not only between the Legislature and anyone who does not share his views, but it seems he goes out of his way to create confrontation between the Legislative branch and the Executive branch, between the Legislative branch and the Judicial branch, between the State Legislature and the Federal Government, and even between the Legislature and Local Communities.
Whether he is trying to force the Attorney General to join a lawsuit, superimposing the will of the Legislature on the court’s ability to enact its own administrative rules, refusing to plan for or even participate in the implementation of the constitutional parts of federal healthcare reform, and prohibiting local school districts from offering rigorous programs as part of their school curriculum.
His actions now and over last seventeen months are simple tyranny. I look forward to November when the people will have the last word on Mr. O’Brien.
House Assistant Deputy Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff:
For a group of people who came in to office at the start of 2011 promising to focus on the economy like a laser, we have to ask: Do they really understand how a laser is supposed to work.
The only laser-like focus I’ve seen this legislative session has been in advancing a radical and far-right social agenda.
How do we know that they favor a far-right social agenda rather than focusing on important issue of jobs and the economy? Their actions speak for them: this far right Republican legislature attached a radical anti-choice amendment requiring a 24 hour waiting period for abortions – which the Senate had already rejected, to an important, bi-partisan research and development tax credit bill.
This far right Republican legislature has voted to defund Planned Parenthood. An action that could put New Hampshire’s entire Medicaid program at risk and more importantly it denies women access to essential health care services such as cancer screenings.
This legislature has fought time and time again to put the state between women and their health care decisions. Bill O’Brien’s Tea Party legislature voted to increase costs on women by repealing coverage of contraception and even mandating that doctors provide false information to patients seeking an abortion.
This legislature has brought guns into the state house, Including the visitor’s gallery where our fourth graders from around the state, studying NH history come to see their government operate. They’ve tried putting guns in our college dorms and our county nursing homes, as well as the veterans home in Tilton. They’ve tried passing legislation that would let convicted felons carry guns, they passed the NH Version of Florida’s “stand your ground” bill and we’ve already seen the deadly consequences of that law. They have even worked to overturn New Hampshire’s domestic violence protection laws.
This is not the agenda the voters thought they were getting in 2010 and it’s not the agenda that the people of New Hampshire can afford in the future.
House Democratic Floor Leader Gary Richardson:
Good morning, my name is Gary Richardson and I am the Democratic Floor Leader in the House of Representatives.
The past two years have been extraordinary, not just in terms of the radical legislation that has been proposed, some of which was actually passed over the Governor’s veto, but in terms of how members of the House have been treated by the Speaker. The legislative process should be a collaboration of ideas to come up with the best possible solutions. The past session has been “my way or the highway”.
My Republican colleagues in the House like to remind us that elections have consequences, and they are correct. However, it is easy to misinterpret the results of an election, and the majority party does so at its peril. Certainly there was no mandate for the lack of respect, the lack of civility, in fact, the downright hostility toward opposing viewpoints that has been exhibited during the past two years.
This refusal to reach out to others for ideas or even allow the minority party or Republicans who do not share the Speaker’s ideology to express ideas has resulted in the legislation that you have just heard described.
A prime example was the Committee of Conference on the constitutional amendment on education funding. No Democrat was appointed as a sitting member of the Committee. No Democrat in the House was allowed to participate. The result was an amendment that everyone could hate that prevented passage of an amendment to allow targeting, something that most people could support. Why? Because the amendment was corrupted with language seeking to expand unlimited authority of the Legislature over education, to give the legislature complete control.
The Speaker removed his own caucus members from committee and even his own Chairs and Vice Chairs whenever they failed to do exactly as told.
The Speaker has even refused to put a Democrat on the Orientation Committee for new members.
These things may seem like inside baseball to the public, but the way you treat other people is a matter of character. The voters are looking for more from us. A recent poll in New Hampshire has identified the NH Legislature as being the 2nd biggest problem facing the state after the economy.
Ideology has taken precedence over civility and practical solutions to our problems.
This morning we have heard about legislation eliminating insurance coverage for birth control, cutting aid to UNH and local schools and down shifting costs, while creating tax credits to fund religious schools, attempting to take over Medicare for our seniors from the federal government, defunding Planned Parenthood, placing limits on a woman’s right to abortion, the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, the only protection against the Speaker’s extreme agenda is the governor’s office, and the Republican candidates for governor have not only refused to separate themselves from this Speaker, but they have adopted much of his rhetoric. Ovide Lamontagne has said that taking over Medicare would be a top priority for his administration. Is this so we can provide less healthcare and spend less money, or does he really think that 50 states running their own healthcare programs can do so more efficiently than the federal government? Kevin Smith has said that he supports “getting rid” of Planned Parenthood. Who does he think is going to provide healthcare to women in the North Country?
For our government to function we need leaders who are in the main stream, leaders who are not governed by a slash and burn ideology where the tactics are to refuse to compromise, to suspend the rules and to cram through radical legislation written by out of state special interest groups. The only protection against people like Bill O’Brien is the ballot box.
In November the voters will have a clear choice: do they want a continuation of this legislature’s radical and out of the mainstream ideological agenda, or do they want leaders who will return us to sanity.
House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli gave the following remarks at the NHDP State Convention, Saturday June 2nd at Manchester Memorial High School in Manchester, NH:
Good morning Democrats! Could I ask all House members to stand?
After spending the last 16 months in the House chamber with about 300 Republicans, it is great for us to be in a room with over 600 Democrats!
Under a Democratic majority we were the safest in the Nation – the best state to raise a family – the most livable state. We weathered the economic storm, and on Election Day New Hampshire was leading the way to recovery.
But Republicans and their shady out-of-state groups spent millions against Gov. Lynch and our Democratic congressional candidates, misleading the people of New Hampshire.
The truth is Democrats governed through challenging times, yet during our years we moved New Hampshire forward.
The Republican majority, led by Bill O’Brien and his Tea Party allies, insisted they would focus on jobs and economy. Instead, they set the tone with guns in the State House, then guns on the House floor, then guns, guns and more guns.
Since then, they have continued to put their radical agenda ahead of the needs of Granite Staters.
Their budget was so draconian it drew over five thousand people to protest outside the State House!
They couldn’t afford to fund the Developmental Disabilities waitlist, but they managed to give away $20M to tobacco companies.
Their budget decimated services for our most vulnerable citizens – and cuts to state programs have forced cities and towns to pick up the tab.
As Democrats we fought for working families – passing the WARN Act, ensuring families have access to affordable workforce housing, and raising the minimum wage.
Republicans, on the other hand, have actually repealed the State’s minimum wage altogether.
And O’Brien’s top priority was to turn NH into a right-to-work-for-less state. I am very proud that all of my House colleagues stood arm in arm to defeat it.
Democrats believe that every child should have access to a quality education, but this Republican leadership has worked to dismantle our public schools by supporting the repeal of Kindergarten, lowering the dropout age, and even ending compulsory education. Now their “Voucher Bill”, dressed up as a “scholarship” will divert funding from our public schools.
And higher education was not spared either. Under the Republicans, cuts to higher education were the greatest of any state in the nation. Their claim to focus on growing our economy does not square with college that is unaffordable for young people.
And Democrats believe that women should have the right to make our own healthcare decisions.
The so-called “woman’s right to know bill” would have required doctors to provide inaccurate information to patients or face felony charges.
And the speaker’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood would have put basic preventive healthcare out of reach for 16,000 Granite State women.
And who would have thought, in 2012 we’d be fighting efforts to allow employers to decide whether or not we could have access to contraception!
Well, not in NH, and not in 2012.
We WILL fight against their continued attacks on women.
We need to bring common sense back to Concord. We need to make Bill O’Brien a one-term speaker.
To do that, we need your help to elect Democrats to the NH House. I’d like to ask all candidates for the House to please stand.
Get to know your state rep candidates, offer to make calls, put up signs, knock on doors, write letters.
The House session ends in another week. People will tune out for the summer. Our job between now and the election is to make sure every last voter knows what O’Brien and his Tea Party Republicans have done to our great state.
Two years ago, Republicans went up and down the State telling lies about Democrats. I have no doubt that, if we spend the next 5 months telling the truth about Republicans, we will, once again, be able to move our great state forward.
Speaker William O’Brien
New Hampshire House of Representatives
107 N. Main St.
Concord, NH 03301
Monday, May 14, 2012
Dear Mr. Speaker:
It was with great concern when I first learned about Bob Mead, an employee of the House Majority Office, billing taxpayers for Republican recruiting trips – reimbursement requests that were approved by your chief of staff, Greg Moore. The taxpayers of New Hampshire deserve an immediate apology from you for this abuse of their money.
The people of New Hampshire, as well as the members of the House, also deserve answers to questions raised by Mr. Mead’s reimbursement requests:
· Who reviews reimbursement requests for House staff members?
· Who assigned Mr. Mead the responsibility for tracking House Republican recruitment?
· Who requested that Mr. Mead attend local Republican committee meetings to recruit Republican House candidates? Were Mr. Mead’s plans to attend these events approved in advance by the Speaker, Majority Leader or Mr. Moore?
· The Concord Monitor quotes Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper as saying: “To the best of my knowledge, he (Mead) is keeping track of which Republicans are planning on running. Beyond that, I’m really not sure what he’s doing.” Specifically, what other duties does Mr. Mead perform?
· Is Mr. Mead responsible for keeping track of recruitment efforts of the House Republican Caucus or any other electoral work? How much time does he spend per week on this function? Is there another employee of the Republican State Committee or the House Republican Caucus who is responsible for recruitment efforts?
· Did Mr. Mead receive comp time – funded by taxpayers – for his attendance at Republican committee events outside the normal working week?
Charging taxpayers for Republican political recruiting trips is an abuse of the public trust and of taxpayers’ money. While Mr. Mead made the reimbursement request, the responsibility for his actions rests with the Speaker and the Majority Leader. The public deserves an apology for your actions and explanation of who authorized Mr. Mead to recruit Republican candidates on the taxpayers’ dime.
Representatives Terie Norelli, Steve Shurtleff, Gary Richardson, and Cindy Rosenwald held a press conference today to talk about how Republicans had promised to focus on the economy and jobs but instead they have focused their attention on social issues and a radical agenda.
Below are the Prepared Remarks:
Thank you all for joining us today. My name is Terie Norelli and I am the Democratic Leader in the New Hampshire House.
With “Crossover” completed, we wanted to recap the highlights and lowlights of the first half of the session.
But before we recap the first half of the session, I feel it is important to address an incident that happened recently in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee. Unfortunately, it epitomizes the misplaced priorities and insulting attitude that this Republican majority has demonstrated to people from across New Hampshire.
In discussing a bill that would have updated our rape statutes to remove the term “mentally defective,” Rep. Ken Kreis said of a rape victim with disabilities, “she had her whole life to get used to being called defective.”
Rep. Jason Antosz also supported keeping the phrase, saying “defective” and “retarded” are “just words.”
These were outrageously insensitive insults – to rape victims and to people with disabilities. I don’t believe they represent New Hampshire values. But unfortunately, these words and actions epitomize what we have seen from this Republican majority — insults and attacks for anyone who disagrees with them, and disregard for the needs and rights of women, as well as people with disabilities.
And this bill, which had already been recommended by the Criminal Justice committee, was sent back to committee, reportedly by Republican leadership.
Speaker O’Brien has made it a point to punish legislators who disagree with him — even removing from their committee members who disagree with him and stand up for their constituents and their communities.
Speaker O’Brien should condemn these outrageous comments by Representatives Kreis and Antosz. I am left wondering if the Speaker will remove them from the Criminal Justice committee as it appears that these representatives have no interest in listening to or serving the needs of crime victims.
Finally, I call on the Speaker to support immediate passage of this legislation.
The actions of the Republican majority speak louder than their words. The Republican majority has undermined efforts to bring new jobs to New Hampshire.
Republicans had promised to focus on the economy and jobs. Instead they have focused their attention on social issues and a radical agenda, with multiple bills attacking women’s health care; legislation to upend contracts between workers and their employers; an effort to take over Medicare; even more efforts to dismantle public education; and bills that undermine basic public safety.
Republican leadership moves forward with every bad idea they can find. They have even pushed through multiple bills that their own committee leadership has determined are harmful … like the plan to take over Medicare, defund planned parenthood, repeal workforce housing, and the list goes on and on.
From refusing to give public notice of votes, to taking seats away from disabled legislators for disagreeing with him, to overriding Republican committee recommendations, Bill O’Brien has corrupted the legislative process.
In the past three months alone, this House has passed:
7 gun bills
8 bills cutting women’s access to health care
8 bills undermining the rights and safety of workers
5 bills attacking public education
At least 5 attacks on the judicial branch
And even one bill planning for a state takeover of Medicare for seniors.
Representatives Shurtleff, Richardson and Rosenwald will address more specifically a few policy areas of particular concern.
House Assistant Deputy Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff:
Good morning. My name is Steve Shurtleff, and I am the House Assistant Deputy Democratic Leader and a retired US Marshall.
Under the House Republican Leadership, working-class families have been called names and their livelihoods have been attacked. This is no way to treat our police officers, firefighters, teachers, and thousands of other workers across our great State.
House Republicans have passed several bills that would upend the contracts between workers and employers, which forces State Government into the employer – employee relationship.
Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee voted to pass an amended version of HB 1677 – turning this year’s version of “right-to-work” into the identical twin of the right-to-work legislation. And today the Senate will vote once again on last year’s so-called right-to-work bill.
Last fall, House Democrats worked with House Republicans to sustain Governor Lynch’s veto on this out-of-state special interest backed bill. After not getting their way last year, Speaker O’Brien just can’t take no for an answer, but I am confident that if the Senate passes this bill, the House will again sustain the Governor’s veto.
When they are not attempting to force “right to work” for less onto New Hampshire, State House Republicans are undermining public safety in pursuit of their guns first agenda.
It began last year, when they voted to allow guns in the State House, and the House chamber, and then passed “Shoot first” legislation opposed by law enforcement and vetoed by Governor Lynch. This dangerous law allows the use of deadly force on street corners, in shopping malls, public parks, and in retail stores.
Drug dealers and other felons who brandish weapons will be further emboldened to use their weapons, while prosecution of those criminals will be made more difficult because of this bill’s expansion of the right to use deadly force.
I remember a few weeks before Governor Lynch vetoed that terrible bill, I read that a man was arrested for brandishing a shotgun in a Pembroke park after a drug transaction turned into an argument. Luckily, no one was harmed in that case but what if that drug dealer had felt threated he would be justified in the use of that deadly force.
That’s not right. That’s why the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police, the New Hampshire Sheriffs Association, the New Hampshire State Police, representatives of over 40 local law enforcement departments and the current and former Attorney Generals warned it would jeopardize public safety.
This year, the House Republicans have continued their focus on guns, passing an additional 7 bills – including one that would have mandated guns be allowed in the dorms and classrooms of public colleges.
New Hampshire has always had a tradition of common sense and responsible public safety laws; however, House Republicans have passed rules and laws that jeopardize our safest state in the Nation status.
House Democratic Floor Leader Gary Richardson:
Good morning! My name is Gary Richardson and I am the House Democratic Floor Leader.
In its quest for power, House Republican leadership has repeatedly violated the separation of power between the three co-equal branches of government by passing unconstitutional legislation and corrupting the rule of law in New Hampshire. There has been bill after bill seeking to force the Attorney General to engage in lawsuits against the federal government or preventing cooperation with the federal government. There have been at least 5 bills attacking the independence of the judiciary, including a proposed constitutional amendment to repeal the ability of the judicial branch to make its own rules.
The Speaker has sought and obtained the power to subpoena witnesses as part of his effort to control Health and Human Services, an executive branch agency, and in the process invade the confidentiality of child protection proceedings – a confidentiality based on protecting the rights of children. The Redress of Grievances committee is acting like a grand jury conducting McCarthy style investigations far beyond anything ever contemplated in our constitution.
House Republican leadership likes to claim it is focusing on jobs, but most of its attention this year has been given to a narrow, Tea Party agenda that will undermine our future economic growth.
Last year, at the same time that this legislature cut the tobacco tax and caused the loss of revenue from tax evaders by eliminating state auditors, they cut aid to higher education in half. They passed on to local taxpayers a costly and disruptive bill that forces schools to develop alternative, individual lesson plans for any student at a parent’s demand.
They’ve continued their anti-education crusade this year, passing a bill aimed at overturning the decisions of local school boards who decide to use a particular educational method. Why? – Because it has the word “international” in it.
And they are pushing an expensive school voucher program that will cost local schools millions a year, driving up local property taxes.
Most business leaders say the future of New Hampshire’s economy will depend on its educated workforce. The House Republican leadership seems ideologically committed to undermining our students, our schools and our state government at every turn.
House Deputy Democratic Floor Leader Cindy Rosenwald:
Good morning, my name is Cindy Rosenwald and I am the Deputy Democratic Floor Leader.
Nowhere is the radical agenda of this House more clear than in the war it has waged on women’s access to health care.
This legislature voted to overturn a 12-year-old bipartisan law guaranteeing equity in prescription drug coverage to women. Their goal: to end prescription coverage for contraception. In New Hampshire do we really want the owner of a business to be able to deny contraceptive coverage?
Back in January, the House passed House Bill 228 in order to fulfill their obsession with de-funding organizations like Planned Parenthood. This ideologically-extreme legislation would completely eliminate all funding for basic, preventive health care services (services such as access to birth control and cancer screenings) received by over 16,000 New Hampshire women, men, and families at Planned Parenthood health centers, some hospitals, and any health facilities that offer full reproductive health care.
This bill would also put New Hampshire at risk of losing 1.2 billion in money for Medicaid funds. This policy is bad for our families, bad for our communities, and bad for our state.
In all, this legislature has passed 8 bills directly related to women’s health care. In fact, they even passed a bill that would take away insurance coverage for midwife services.
When House Republicans are not focused on repealing contraception coverage or defunding basic, preventive health care services for thousands of New Hampshire women, they are voting to undermine health care in other ways.
And now they’ve voted to plan for the legislature to take over Medicare for seniors. The State Committee on Aging calls this proposal “potentially disastrous.”
And disastrous is what their other health changes have been.
House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli:
Thank you Steve, Gary, and Cindy! Unfortunately this has been the story at the State House for the past fifteen months. Bills that would be laughed out of any living room or board room in New Hampshire, are being pushed through by a radical Tea Party coalition.
I look forward to when the New Hampshire Legislature is taken seriously again and begins to work with the Governor on common sense solutions to create jobs and grow our economy. Thank you!
It would be nice to wake up tomorrow morning and discover that the actions of the current New Hampshire House and its imperious speaker, Bill O’Brien, had been one long April Fools joke and now lawmakers were planning to get serious. Unfortunately, the speaker and House majority seriously believe that people should be able to stand their ground and shoot anyone they think is threatening them rather than walk away. And they are serious when they say that a tortured electoral redistricting plan is the best one they could conceive.
The House passes so much bad, or downright illegal, legislation that’s it’s hard to keep track of it all. Last week alone, the House passed three bills that will have a negative impact on some or all of the state’s residents. One is a bill that makes women seeking an abortion wait at least 24 hours between an initial doctor’s visit and the procedure itself. That’s needless legislation that demeans and inconveniences women without justification. Gov. John Lynch should veto it.
February marked the 324th consecutive month that global temperatures exceeded their long-term average. March saw a string of high temperature records broken in New Hampshire and across America. The great majority of scientists say global warming caused by human activity is at least in part at fault. So what did New Hampshire’s House do? By better than a two-to-one margin it voted to pull New Hampshire out of the regional greenhouse gas agreement to cut carbon emissions. That would hasten global warming. The House took that action on the same day that scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report warning that global warming is causing extreme weather that will decimate coastal areas – extreme weather that could strike anywhere on Earth. Longer droughts, worse floods, fiercer storms and longer and more frequent heat waves are predicted.
The House also overturned the governor’s veto of its redistricting plan (and the Senate later concurred). That vote came as a surprise engineered by the House’s devious and dictatorial speaker, enough of a surprise that the vote deserves to be challenged on constitutional grounds.
The House plan deprives 62 communities large enough to meet the requirements under the state Constitution that they have a representative to call their own. It also lumps some city wards, including Concord’s Ward 5, in with other communities. Because of those flaws a fair number of Republicans, perhaps enough to make overturning Lynch’s veto impossible, opposed the redistricting plan. On Thursday, O’Brien looked around and saw that many of them were absent. He held a half-hour caucus with the Republicans present and then called a vote. Democrats who asked for 15 minutes to caucus before the vote were told no.
The redistricting vote had not been scheduled, nor had the governor’s veto message been printed in the House calendar as required under the state Constitution. When challenged, O’Brien cited an opinion by House legal counsel Ed Mosca, a conservative activist and occasional Monitor columnist, that the vote was legal, but he refused to allow Democrats to read the opinion.
We urge Democrats, joined by Republican representatives and their constituents who will be denied equal representation by the redistricting plan, to sue, both over O’Brien’s illegal vote and the redistricting plan itself. What’s going on in the House is government at its worst. Mean-spirited, meddlesome, partisan, ill-reasoned and tyrannical. We urge voters to think hard about whether to send their representatives back to Concord in the fall.
BACKGROUND: House Speaker William O’Brien orchestrated a surprise vote to override the governor’s veto of the House redistricting plan this week.
CONCLUSION: Chalk this up as the latest example of the speaker behaving badly – and possibly violating the state constitution to boot.
If anyone needs a fresh example of the blatant disregard for civility and fair play so common in government today, we offer up our speaker of the House of Representatives as Exhibit A.
No stranger to procedural controversy during his first 18 months in leadership, Rep. William O’Brien, of Mont Vernon, did it again Wednesday when he thumbed his nose at House protocol – if not the New Hampshire Constitution – in calling for an unscheduled override vote of Gov. John Lynch’s veto of the House redistricting plan (HB 592).
After fighting back a procedural challenge by outraged Democrats, the House voted to override the governor’s veto by the necessary two-thirds margin, 246-112. On Thursday, the Senate followed suit, 17-7, making the House redistricting plan law.
This is the same plan that deprives Hudson and Pelham of their own seats – they will share 11 under the new law – even though they were deserving of seven and four, respectively, based on their populations.
In calling for the vote, O’Brien appears to have run afoul of the state constitution, which says the governor’s veto message should be printed in the legislative body’s journal prior to an override attempt.
Specifically, Part II, Article 44 of the state constitution states that if the governor vetoes a bill, “he shall return it, with his objections, to that house in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it.”
In order to get around that, O’Brien halted proceedings Wednesday to call a 30-minute private caucus with House Republicans, during which he distributed a written opinion from House legal counsel Ed Mosca. The opinion concluded that the speaker has the authority to take up the governor’s veto, though the House could choose not to do so by a majority vote.
Upon learning of the speaker’s intent, House Democrats asked for a 15-minute break to caucus on their own, certainly a reasonable request under the circumstances. Of course, their request was denied. Nor were they allowed to see a copy of Mosca’s legal opinion prior to the vote.
And as would be expected in a chamber where they are outnumbered by a 3-1 margin, the Democratic objection to the speaker’s decision failed by a lopsided 255-97 tally.
“I am at a total loss to understand why (O’Brien) continues to break Houses rules, to violate the constitution, to make up his own way of doing things day after day,” House Minority Leader Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, told the Portsmouth Herald after the vote.
Given Norelli knows full well why the speaker does what he does, we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt she was speaking rhetorically.
So is this much ado about nothing? We don’t think so.
By telling reporters and others Monday that he didn’t intend to bring Lynch’s veto forward this week, O’Brien may have deprived some lawmakers the opportunity to participate. Of the 397 House members now serving, 39 were absent for a vote that exceeded the two-thirds margin by eight.
What’s worse, the unannounced vote also denied municipal officials – particularly those in communities like Hudson, Manchester and Pelham that share seats – one last opportunity to persuade their lawmakers to sustain the governor’s veto in hopes of a better deal.
But that no doubt was the speaker’s plan all along, yet another example of an ends-justify-the-means philosophy that is giving our state government a bad name.
New Hampshire House Republican leaders have proven yet again they have no peers when it comes to combining ideological excess and shameful public policy. The latest example was the passage Wednesday of a Republican-sponsored measure allowing employers to deny insurance coverage for contraception on religious grounds.
When the current law was approved in 2000 it came after a year of study, numerous hearings and a bipartisan effort to craft a sensible solution. The goal was affordable contraception access for women in health insurance plans — one that combines pregnancy prevention with many other necessary medical uses for contraception drugs. It allowed for at least three exemptions for employers to opt out of the mandate including self-insurance coverage by churches. The mandate only applied if prescription drug coverage was part of a health insurance plan. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support and provoked no controversy the past 12 years.
But late last month, House Republican leaders had a revelation. The contraception coverage law, they decided, was actually a constitutional infringement on employers who have religious objections to providing such coverage. It was also an onerous mandate that caused skyrocketing health insurance premiums. In a normal legislative universe, these false revelations should have required, at a minimum, multiple public hearings to inform lawmakers and the public of issues at hand. If they existed we would have heard from employers who have had their religious liberties curtailed or received financial estimates from insurance providers about how costly the contraception mandate has been. Lawmakers could also have considered public health care risks of such a measure.
Instead, led by House Speaker William O’Brien, these Republican House leaders held one public hearing of less than two hours. In around 13 days, the amended version of House Bill 1546 was rushed to the House floor and passed 196-150.
Of course, this exercise was all about national, election-year politics and little about religious liberties and certainly completely failed to take into consideration women’s health. Curiously, after more than a year in power, House Republicans had said nothing about this onerous fiscal and unconstitutional mandate. But it became imperative when conservative Republicans in Washington attacked the Obama administration for a similar contraception mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act. Thankfully, the U.S. Senate defeated a measure called the Blunt Amendment that was even more expansive and would have allowed for employers to deny any type of health care coverage on moral grounds.
In their haste to make women’s access to contraception an election year campaign issue, House Republican leaders showed a reckless disregard for the Constitution they claim to revere. Very simply, freedom of religion does not extend to the freedom to impose one’s religious beliefs on others in the public sphere — and more than 100 years of constitutional rulings have reaffirmed that limit. Health care coverage is a business transaction, not a religious service. Do we want employers to have the power to deny coverage on religious grounds? Do employers even want this power? These were unasked questions. Furthermore, expanding the definition of religious liberties into the public sphere opens up a Pandora’s Box on issues such as housing, employment, health care and commerce. It’s an open invitation to widespread religious discrimination from all sides.
Worst of all, this hastily produced legislation showed zero concern for legitimate public health interests of women who need contraception medicines for reasons beyond pregnancy prevention. Sexual activity is a fixation for too many opponents of contraception coverage and perhaps they should get a more informed perspective from their female friends, colleagues and relatives.
On too many issues of public importance, O’Brien & Co. have shown they don’t care what evidence actually exists — see voter fraud hysteria or a needless cut in the cigarette tax among the many examples — because it only matters what they believe to be ideologically true. Opponents of contraception coverage are fighting a battle long decided. This was a needless exercise in political posturing that could undermine the thoughtful work done in 2000 by Republicans and Democrats. We encourage the Senate to show better judgment with HB 1546 and either vote it down or shelve it. We expect Gov. John Lynch to veto this bill if it does get to his desk.