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.
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.