By State Senator Bob Odell
The weekly House and Senate calendars list dozens of public hearings and meetings that will be coming up in the next few weeks. Nearly all of them will be held in Concord. And those hearings in Concord have a proven record of generating public input and information for legislators.
But from time to time there are issues best addressed at the local level. I found that particularly true with the work of the study commission I chaired that looked into the operations of the state park system a few years ago. It is now a regular procedure of the House and Senate Finance Committees to hold public hearings outside of Concord as they work on the biennial budget every other year.
The value of hearings in the communities impacted by legislation has been demonstrated again with the three public meetings held by the committee studying the closing of district courts in Claremont, Milford and Colebrook. While only two or three committee members were able to be at each hearing, the input from residents will have a significant impact on the recommendations of the full committee.
In the case of the discussion over court closings, it was helpful to actually see the facilities that are being proposed to be shut down. Walking around a court, having court personnel tell how the court functions and what are the pluses and minuses of the court facility, all have an impact on a visiting legislator.
Then, there is the anecdotal testimony and factual data from attorneys, school administrators, police chiefs, advocates for victims of domestic violence and community leaders that gives legislators a perspective on who uses the local court. Many of those citizens would find it difficult to get to Concord to offer their testimony but can take an evening to let a visiting study committee have the benefit of their views.
Going out to communities impacted by proposed legislation may be inconvenient for some legislators but the information garnered first hand, on site, has real value as study committee members draft their reports and offer their recommendations for legislation.
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Representative Peter Leishman (Peterborough), chair of the court closing study committee, had to make a special effort to be at the Claremont public meeting on Wednesday, October 28. He has the distinction of being the only legislator who can claim ownership of a railroad. Representative Leishman owns the Milford-Bennington Railroad and a few days before the Claremont meeting, he was in the control car of the train when it collided with an automobile.
Although suggesting his injuries were not great, he is under doctor’s care, doing physical therapy and on the day of the Claremont hearing rode to and from Concord for our special legislative “Veto Day” session with another legislator. Knowing that I would likely be the only committee member at the meeting that night, he made the drive himself to Claremont from Peterborough.
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If you think you might qualify for assistance through a federal program that has been helping low income families purchase heating fuel, now is the time to apply. Assistance is based on income and family size.
The benefit two winters ago was around $600 per family. It spiked last winter because of a supplemental federal appropriation taking the benefit up to $1,200. Congress has not appropriated the money for this winter but if the pattern holds from the past three decades, the program will be fully funded. For now, the disbursing agency, Southwestern Community Services which serves Cheshire and Sullivan Counties, has been approved to distribute $3.668 thousand this winter.
In a briefing by Southwestern Community Services CEO, Bill Marcello and the director of their Energy Services Program, Ann Daniels, I learned that 3,100 applications have already been processed and another 1,200 are being scheduled for appointments. The agency estimates that it will receive around 8,000 applications for fuel assistance for this winter.
For further information, residents of Cheshire County should call 352-7512 and residents of Sullivan County should call 603-542-9528.
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The state’s Business and Industry Association (BIA) has held eleven “Legislative Pant Tours” to help legislators understand that the “advanced manufacturing high technology sector is the most important component of New Hampshire’s economy.”
Legislators received a briefing on the impact of manufacturing on employment, taxes paid, economic growth and the status of our economy. Then, there was an hour for a plant tour followed by a discussion of the comparative economics of companies doing business in New Hampshire against other states.
I joined half a dozen area representatives for a meeting and tour of Whelen Engineering in Charlestown. Starting with a small shop in the April, 1987, Whelen now employs over 500 people.
Although I have toured the plant several times in the last decade, I always learn something new. My recent tour was no exception. Most consistent is the fact that change is an accepted part of the manufacturing process at Whelen. Whether it is changing products, using technology to replace old production techniques or, in contrast to many other companies, moving production of component parts into the company instead of outsourcing to others, the management always emphasizes change is part of being successful in today’s marketplace. Company publications note that “Whelen is the only US manufacturer of emergency warning equipment to still manufacture its products entirely. The use of robotics and a motivated workforce allow it to compete with off-shore products.”
NH State Senator Bob Odell (District 8) is chairman of Ways and Means, a member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee, and the Finance Committee. Senate District 8 comprises: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.
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