House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli Mourns Loss of Representative James Powers of Portsmouth

CONCORD, NH – House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli today mourned the passing of Representative James Powers, (D – Portsmouth), who died this morning.

“Jim was the kind of person for whom the word citizen meant everything. At a time when political service brings cynicism from some, Jim saw politics as an honorable pursuit. He approached public service with a determination and thoughtfulness that always put the public interest first. He believed in the people he served. Jim was always proud to be a Democrat,” stated Representative Norelli.

“Like every member of the New Hampshire House Democratic Caucus, I will miss Jim’s counsel and advice. More than that, I will miss his affection, friendship and humor. I know I speak for all the members of the House when I say we have lost a great friend and a valued colleague.

Powers, 73, was in his third term in the House and served on the Environment and Agriculture Committee.

Contraception attacks must be rejected

Monitor editorial

Contraception attacks must be rejected

February 21, 2012
Can the culture wars in Washington and at the State House get any more bizarre?

It is, of course, 2012, but you’d never know it from the public debate among our elected officials. Last week brought us Republican Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker of Concord – a nurse – singing the praises of abstinence as a cost-free alternative to contraception, even for married couples. And Republican Rep. Jeanine Notter of Merrimack warning that birth control pills lead to prostate cancer. And a wealthy backer of Rick Santorum pining for the good old days when, he said, women used aspirin for contraceptives: “The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

Today will bring a committee vote on a resolution sponsored by the Republican leadership in the New Hampshire House calling on the federal government to rescind its rule requiring that health plans provide coverage for contraception. Coming later this session: a measure undoing the New Hampshire law that includes a similar mandate.

Is this what anyone imagined 21st-century politics would be about? Do Republicans really believe that debating the value of birth control will win them many votes?

For New Hampshire lawmakers who haven’t given the matter much thought – the ones hoping to focus like a laser on the economy – here’s a gentle reminder: The insurance mandates on birth control at the federal level and the one that has existed in New Hampshire for more than a decade with no controversy are good for women, good for families, good for your constituents, good for the community.

The new federal law requires insurers to provide birth control to women without a co-payment. The rules also eliminate the co-pay for other preventive measures, including prenatal care, counseling and equipment for breast-feeding, and screenings to detect gestational diabetes in pregnant women, HIV or signs of domestic violence. The state law requires insurers who provide prescription drug coverage to also cover birth control.

These are significant improvements in women’s reproductive health. They are also financially prudent.

On average, women pay up to $600 a year for birth control pills, the most popular form of contraception. Compare that with the federal government’s estimated cost of an uncomplicated pregnancy and childbirth: $7,600. And that’s just the starting point when it comes to raising kids.

In other words, there is a serious financial saving to be had by helping women avoid unintended pregnancies. And when you consider that nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, according to the Centers for Disease Control, this is no trifling issue.

When this debate erupted earlier this month, President Obama’s critics accused him of trampling on the freedom of employers who had religious objections to birth control. The compromise he struck – forcing the insurers, rather than employers, to pay – hasn’t quieted the opposition. Suddenly, strangely, the debate was about birth control itself.

Insurance mandates are nothing new. In New Hampshire, state law requires health insurance plans to cover a wide variety of procedures and services – everything from hearing aids to chiropractic care to treatment for autism to artificial limbs to (at least for now) midwifery. Surely basic reproductive health services belong on this list.

We urge state lawmakers to reject the resolution aimed at the federal government. If and when GOP leaders introduce their bill to undo the New Hampshire contraceptive mandate, legislators must reject that one too.

Anti-evolution bills should be defeated

Anti-evolution bills should be defeated

February 20, 2012

It’s been a century and a half since the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and 87 years since the Scopes trial produced a backlash that led to the end of state bans on the teaching of evolution. But in 2012, to the amusement of much of the nation, the New Hampshire Legislature is considering two bills aimed at giving equal time to the theory of evolution and hokum. The House will vote on them Wednesday.

One bill, sponsored by first-time Manchester Republican Rep. Jerry Bergevin, requires that evolution be taught as a theory. It is, after all, despite its overwhelming acceptance by the vast majority of the world’s scientists, still called the theory of evolution, so that part of Bergevin’s bill is pointless. Frighteningly, the bill goes on to require that the teaching of evolution in public schools “include the theorist’s political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”

Darwin was raised and schooled in the Church of England, set out to be a minister, came to see evolution as the hand of God working through the laws of nature, and in later life described himself not as an atheist but an agnostic, one who doesn’t know. But we fear that Bergevin is not referring to Darwin with his use of the words “the theorist” in his bill but to today’s science teachers. If so, it is a McCarthy-esque proposition that’s odious on multiple levels. It’s also unconstitutional.

Government cannot demand that someone explain their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Bergevin’s own views on evolution are quite clear. “It is a world view and it is godless. It leads people down a path of devaluing human life, a path that ends in murder,” Bergevin told a Monitor reporter. As evidence, he claimed that the perpetrators of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado were “believers in evolution.” Case closed, at least for Bergevin.

A second bill concerning evolution is sponsored by Weare Republican Rep. Gary Hopper and Goffstown Republican Rep. John Burt. It seeks to mandate that public schools impart to their students the idea that “proper scientific inquiry results not from committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations are based on new evidence (sic) can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes.”

Though we suspect he was unaware of it, Hopper described, minus an explanation of the scientific method of hypothesis, observation, experimentation, verification and challenge, the essential nature of scientific inquiry. It is the opposite of efforts to espouse positions like the creationist theories of life’s origin promoted by an a representative from the Discovery Institute who came to New Hampshire from the state of Washington to testify in favor of the bills.

The institute is a self-described think tank that sponsors intelligent design programs for schools that choose to teach not science but the belief, unsupported by any evidence, that life forms are the work of an intelligent creator, not evolutionary change.

Hopper, like the Discovery Institute, wants schools to teach both evolution and the theories challenging it. It would be irresponsible not to do so if any scientifically credible theory that conflicts with evolution exists. None does. Intelligent design is based in religion, not science.

The real question these bills raise, however, do not concern life’s origins, but voter intent. What were the voters who elected Bergevin, Hopper and Burt thinking, and will they elect them again? The House should spare the state further embarrassment and kill both bills.

House Democrats Condemn Passage of Bill that Would Allow NH To Ignore Federal Medicare & Medicaid Laws

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Representatives Terie Norelli, House Democratic Leader and Gary Richardson, House Democratic Floor Leader, issued the following statements regarding the passage of HB 1560, legislation regarding an interstate Health Care Compact.

“This bill is another attempt by the Republican majority to circumvent the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) by, in theory, creating a multi-state compact to allow states to manage all aspects of healthcare themselves, using federal money, but not obligated to follow federal laws, for example, the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” stated Representative Terie Norelli. “Both programs could become unstable, subject to biennial budget pressures.

“Supporters argue this bill is constitutional. Democrats believe it’s a violation of Part I, Art 37 – Separation of Powers, the United States Supremacy Clause, a Commerce Clause that says that the federal government has authority over interstate commerce, and the United States Due Process and Equal Protection guaranties,” stated Representative Gary Richardson. “New Hampshire could see tax rates increase dramatically as we lose automatic federal funding increases and the Legislature could raise eligibility age or income, cut benefits, and reduce provider rates.  At least 350,000 NH residents could lose the stability of their Medicare and Medicaid coverage. Once again, Republicans are passing a bad policy bill.”

House Democrats Criticize Republican Majority for Anti- Labor Bill Passed in the Dark

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Representatives Terie Norelli, House Democratic Leader and Representative Ben Baroody, who serves on the House Finance Committee, issued the following statements regarding the passage of HB 1666, an anti-labor bill that had no public hearing.

“This bill was amended by the Finance Committee without a public hearing or proper notification. This is a complicated issue that should have been heard first by the policy committee – the Labor Committee,” stated Representative Terie Norelli. “It most certainly should have had a public hearing. What happened to the Republican’s claim of an open and transparent government? Another case of Republicans saying one thing and then acting the complete opposite way.”

“The amendment substantially changes the bill with NO public input. It requires legislative approval of any collective bargaining contract entered into by the state.  There are currently eight collective bargaining agreements associated with employees, all of which can reach agreement on dates independent of each other, the legislative budget cycle and the full legislative session. Most likely, all would have different enactment dates,” stated Representative Ben Baroody.

 

“What happened to the Republican declarations of less government? This bill would add layer upon layer – at the taxpayers expensive – to a collective bargaining process that does not need fixing,” he continued. “Simply put, this is another Republican anti-worker bill and another power-grab by an already power hungry and intoxicated Republican majority.”

House Democrats Object to Redistricting of Executive Council Districts Plans Ignore Communities of Interest

CONCORD – Representative Lucy M. Weber issued the following statement regarding the passage of HB 1670, legislation regarding redistricting of Executive Council districts.

“The Republican redistricting plan does nothing to group communities with common interests together.  For example, District 2 stretches from Dublin and Marlborough up to Charlestown over to Franklin and then to New Castle and Portsmouth. The plan shifts significant population centers between districts. This is unnecessary, as the existing Executive Council Districts are already within acceptable deviations, and need not be altered at all. Clearly, the changes in this plan were enacted solely for political purposes,” stated Representative Lucy Weber.

“You have only to look at the map to see what is wrong with this redistricting plan.  District 2 looks like a dragon that swallowed a donkey. The plan is an embarrassment to anyone who voted for it.”

View the map of the Executive Council Districts at: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/committees/committee_websites/h48/exec_councilDistricts/Map_of_Mirski_amendment,_0518h.pdf

Democrats Condemn Republican Vote to Suppress Voter’s Rights

Concord, NH – Representative David Cote, Democratic Policy Leader on the House Election Law Committee, issued the following statement after the Republican majority voted to pass HB 1354, legislation relative to a person’s residence for voting and all other legal purposes. 

“There will be many unintended consequences from the passage of this bill. The term ‘resident’ appears in hundreds of statutes dealing with far-ranging issues from transportation to taxes and everything in between. The impact this legislation will have on those issues is thus impossible to determine. That is irresponsible legislating.”

“Most importantly, the integrity of the voting system in New Hampshire is compromised. History shows that this law could be used to target voters such as college students, low-income residents and members of our military in order to intimidate them and suppress their vote.”

“Voting is the most fundamental constitutional right of our citizens and the legislature should only pass laws that insure that everyone who is qualified to vote is able to vote.”

“I believe that passage of this bill will result in chaos at the polls, and is unnecessary.”

House GOP Responds to Public Pressure, Postpones Reckless Bills

Concord, NH – New Hampshire House Republicans vainly tried not to take a position on a pair of anti-education bills in the State House today after legislators received a flood of phone calls and emails from concerned taxpayers across the state urging them to defeat the irresponsible proposals.

HB1713 and HB1517 would force New Hampshire to withdraw from the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind program and prevent all New Hampshire school districts from implementing any part of the program.  These bills would slash more than 62 million dollars from the state’s public schools, devastating local education budgets and increasing the burden on local taxpayers. [Nashua Telegraph, 02/07/2012]

“These bills were reckless and irresponsible and unfortunately rather than defeat them outright, House Republicans tried to avoid going on the record,” said Representative Terie Norelli, House Democratic Leader.  “These bills would make devastating cuts to public education in New Hampshire; they put ideology before common sense and should have been killed in committee.

“Unfortunately this has been the story at the State House for the past twelve months.  Bills that would be laughed out of any living room or board room in New Hampshire, have strong support in the State House,” continued Norelli. “As happened with HB474, the Right-to-Work-for-Less bill, Speaker O’Brien is postponing the final vote on a controversial bill until he thinks no one is looking and he can continue to force his agenda on New Hampshire.”

Larger communities across the state would lose more than one million dollars, just from the elimination of Title I funding if the bills were passed.  But Title I funding comprises only about 2/3rds of the No Child Left Behind, and larger cuts would be expected.  Local school officials have called the proposed cuts “devastating.” [Nashua Telegraph, 02/07/2012]

Slew of Bad Legislation

January 08, 2012

While the public’s attention has been distracted by the upcoming primary election, the N.H. Legislature has pursued a dangerous agenda that is the epitome of political overreaching.

We’re confident that, once voters get the full sense of exactly what these lawmakers have been up to, the politicians will be tossed out of office and their reign of terror brought to an end. Why a reign of terror? First, because the laws proposed and passed by Free State Republicans in the House and Senate pose a real danger to law-abiding New Hampshire citizens. Second, because lawmakers who disagree with House Speaker Bill O’Brien and his henchmen are literally terrorized. Things have gotten so bad that Republican lawmaker Susan Emerson of Rindge filed a bill aimed directly at O’Brien’s bullying.

Emerson said, after she spoke against budget cuts in the Senate, O’Brien berated her. “He was like a little child with a tantrum,” she said, adding, “I have never been spoken to in my life like the way that man spoke to me.”

The Bill O’Brien Bullying Bill is co-sponsored by Exeter Republican Matt Quandt and longtime Democratic state Rep. Laura Pantelakos, who said she’s never seen things so hostile in all her years at the Statehouse.

While the House leadership is terrorizing its own membership, it is doing even worse to the public. It is putting us in danger.

This past week saw a slew of even more irrational proposed changes to the state’s gun laws.

Despite the pleading of police and school leaders, the House passed a bill making it legal to carry concealed weapons on any public property, including colleges, any public land or any publicly financed buildings. According to Gov. John Lynch, this means anyone can enter any private business at Pease International Tradeport with a concealed weapon, regardless of the business owners’ feelings about it, because Pease businesses lease their land from the state through the Pease Development Authority.

After expanding where it is legal to carry, the House then passed a bill to eliminate the need to get a license to carry a concealed, loaded weapon. Essentially now, with the exception of convicted felons, anyone can get and carry a loaded concealed weapon anywhere, anytime.

The third gun bill proposes eliminating a 74-year-old ban on people having loaded shotguns and rifles in their vehicles while they’re driving. We can only hope the Senate will stop this madness.

After making sure all our citizens can have unlicensed, loaded, concealed weapons, the House was then joined by the Senate in overriding Gov. Lynch and passing a law that allows the parent of any child in public school to stop a teacher from using any lesson that parent finds “objectionable.” The law doesn’t define what objectionable means, so now any parent could stop any teacher from teaching any lesson without any reason. As if our teachers didn’t have a hard enough job already.

After increasing the likelihood of gun violence and unnecessarily disrupting teachers in the classroom, the House and Senate set out to undermine consumers. Because an annual interest rate of 36 percent wasn’t high enough, our House and Senate have overridden Gov. Lynch’s veto and made it legal for payday lenders to charge 25 percent interest a month. We have seen models where the annual interest rate on these loans could wind up being more than 400 percent.

“You can’t legislate against stupidity,” explained Hampton State Rep. Fred Rice. This was also Rice’s explanation for his role in gutting a law that would have protected pre-buy oil customers.

That bill, sponsored by Rep. Lee Quandt, R-Exeter, was drafted with help from the state Attorney General’s office, after Flynn’s Oil went bankrupt in 2009 and stiffed more than 300 customers out of $500,000 they had paid in advance for oil. The bill would simply have required oil companies to put 75 percent of the money paid for oil in an escrow account for safekeeping.

“If you pay for heating oil to keep your family or small business warm in winter, that fuel should be delivered,” said Rep. Christopher Serlin, D-Portsmouth. “And if for some reason that does not happen, your money should come back to you.”

That seems sensible to us, which is why the nonsensical House leadership vote eviscerated the bill. Apparently, common sense is no longer welcome in the N.H. Legislature. Space prohibits listing the full catalogue of idiocy that took place this past week in the Legislature. For now, we’ll just have to look forward to welcoming common sense back in November 2012.

Guns on Campus

By now many readers have heard about HB 334, which would nullify all existing, and forbid any future, local firearm regulations on property owned by the state of New Hampshire or its political subdivisions (town, city, county, etc.).  The bill, which has been recommended for passage when the House returns in early January, has received significant public attention due to the effect it would have on weapons policies at our public colleges and universities.

All of New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities currently ban guns on campus, and HB 334 would mandate a reversal of that policy. University officials and police, citing the prevalence of alcohol use and the fact that one’s college years are “often among the most volatile periods in a person’s life,” requested an exemption to HB 334 that would retain their authority to regulate the possession of firearms on campus. That request was denied, as supporters of the bill actually argued that allowing everyone to carry guns on campus makes us safer.

The negative consequences of HB 334 unfortunately stretch well beyond the college campus issue, as the bill’s effect is much more widespread than most people realize. By banning firearm regulations on any publically owned property, the bill removes the ability of anyone – even private businesses that lease property from the state – to adopt firearm regulations that fit their specific needs. Were HB 334 to become law, local officials would have no authority to stop individuals from carrying guns into places like the Alzheimer’s unit at county nursing homes or day care operations located on public property.

Ironically, by supporting this bill, Republican leaders have abandoned numerous values they usually purport to embrace. Local control, business rights, opposition to government mandates, and adherence to the constitution have all been tossed aside in exchange for a drastic expansion of gun rights.

A late amendment, likely added because of justified concerns from town officials, allows town selectmen to override the mandate. While beneficial for towns seeking to protect public safety on their property, that provision is a direct violation of the equal protection clauses of both the U.S. and New Hampshire constitutions. Because the override provision applies to towns but not New Hampshire’s 13 cities, one-third of our population is denied the constitutionally-guaranteed equal protection of the laws.

The question becomes, why are Republican lawmakers so focused on an unnecessary pro-gun mandate at the expense of public safety and local control?  Do people really feel that their rights are being violated when they can’t bring their gun into the county-run daycare center or the registrar’s office at UNH?

Regarding colleges specifically, this legislature has already placed an extreme financial burden on our institutions of higher learning by cutting state funding for the university system 50 percent, and the community college system 30 percent, in the budget that became law July 1. This bill would force university officials to completely re-train their security and police forces, using up time and increasingly scarce resources that would be better utilized supporting the education that students pay for.

Our job as elected officials is to listen to our constituents and support commonsense legislation that helps the people of New Hampshire. This bill is staunchly opposed by those who it would most affect. House members should listen to the people we represent, and defeat HB 334 when it comes before us in January.

(Representative Terie Norelli is the Democratic Leader in the New Hampshire House of Representatives)