Capital Comments: Gov. Hassan unveils budget Feb. 14

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

The long wait to learn what Governor Maggie Hassan is putting into her budget will end on Thursday.  Promptly at 10 o’clock in the morning, she will be introduced into Representatives Hall and with little ceremony will be introduced again for the purpose of making her budget address.

This happens in New Hampshire every two years.  And the Governor’s address sets the framework for the work the House and Senate will do before passing a two year budget in June for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. Continue reading

Capital Comments: N.H. biennial budget process underway

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

The sparring over the size of the state’s next biennial budget began last week.  Over three days, agency heads offered their wish lists for appropriations for the two year budget cycle that begins on July 1.

Presentations at the Governor’s Fiscal Year 2014-15 Operating Budget Hearing, one of several steps in the budget process, gave department heads a chance to tell their stories publicly for the first time.  They will have plenty of other opportunities down the road.

The agency heads were providing the Governor, legislators and the public with what they think the costs will be to run the current programs in each department for the next two years. Their “maintenance” budgets do not take into consideration any new programs or activities … they simply keep programs as they are.

What does that get you?  Adding up all agency requests, if approved and they won’t be, there would be additional spending of $3.3 billion over the next two years, an increase of 26 percent over current spending levels. Continue reading

Capital Comments: N.H. Medicaid and the new healthcare law

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

A constituent that I hear from periodically wants me to introduce a bill to nullify the new federal health care plan.  He writes, “Obama Care must be nullified within our state to eliminate the vast, new, unconstitutional powers over health care …”

In the days following the election, some legislators, government officials, stakeholders like insurance companies and health care providers and the media are focusing on the implications for New Hampshire of the Affordable Care Act, which even the President has said is appropriate to call Obama Care.   About 100 of them turned out last week at the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters to be briefed on the part of the new law dealing with Medicaid.

HHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas introduced the program explaining that while the U.S. Supreme found the new law constitutional, the federal government cannot force states to increase the number of people on Medicaid, the program that provides services to indigent people.  Commissioner Toumpas said policy makers, the legislature and the Governor need to determine whether or not we will expand the number of people on our Medicaid rolls.

After support for public schools, Medicaid is the next largest spending line in the budget.  To serve about 120,000 Medicaid eligible New Hampshire residents, the state spends $600 million annually that is matched by another $600 million from the federal government. Continue reading

2012 Election brings dramatic changes to Concord

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

The voters spoke last week and brought dramatic changes to Concord.

Most attention was focused on the election of a new Governor, former State Senator Maggie Hassan, and the reversal of a three to one Republican majority in the House to a 222 to 178 Democrat majority.  There is much less attention on the changes in the makeup of the State Senate.

Broadly speaking, the Republicans retained a narrow majority of 13 to 11 but that is down from 19 to 5.  Given the wholesale GOP losses in House contests, it is surprising only one Republican incumbent, Jim Luther (Hollis), lost.  And he lost to Peggy Gilmour, also of Hollis, who he defeated two years ago.

The 24 newly elected Senators will be sworn in by Governor Lynch on December 5 as required by the state constitution.  There are 14 Senators who were re-elected last week and three who are returning after being out one term having been defeated two years ago.  And there will be seven new members with four of them moving from the House to the Senate including David Pierce (Lebanon).

In 2006, history was made when the New Hampshire Senate became the first state legislative body in the country to have women make up a majority of its membership.  There were 13 women Senators between 2006 and 2010.  There will be nine women in the new Senate.

Republicans and Democrats moved quickly to choose their respective leaders.  Senator Sylvia Larsen (Concord) is the senior Senator in terms of service with ten terms and she was chosen by her Democrat caucus to lead the Senate Democrats.  Senator Peter Bragdon (Milford) was selected to lead the Republicans and with their majority he will be formally elected Senate President for a second term when the Senators gather on December 5. Continue reading

Sue Gottling asks for your vote in N.H. House race

In the House race for District 2 in New Hampshire’s Sullivan County,  Sunapee and Croydon, former state Rep. Sue Gottling (D-Sunapee) is running against one-term incumbent Spec Bowers (R-Sunapee). SunapeeNews.com asked both candidates for voter information. Election Day is November 6, 2012.

By Sue Gottling

My name is Sue Gottling and I am running for State Representative in District 2, Sunapee and Croydon. Having served in the N.H. House from 2006 to 2010, I believe voters are ready for a return to cooperation and common sense.

Here is why I ask for YOUR vote in this important election.

First: The best legislation emerges when all sides work together. During my time in the House, I worked cooperatively with Republicans, including Senator Odell and Representative Kidder, sponsoring bills, serving on committees and chairing the Land Use Commission.

Second: I paid attention to my town by attending most Selectboard meetings for four years and sponsoring bills for the Board and constituents.

Third: As a member of the Resources Committee, I expedited help from DES [Department of Environmental Services] and DRED [Department of Resources and Economic Development] when crucial local issues arose.

Fourth: As an educator, I know the value of quality public education. I oppose the bills that threaten public education: 50% reduction of state support for our University system, making Kindergarten optional, removing vital curriculum components from state standards, and raiding the UNIQUE fund, the last vestige of state scholarships for college students.

New Hampshire does not need to be the only state that provides no money for scholarships, ranks last in financial support for higher education, and continues the highest rate of student loan debt for graduates. If employers come to N.H. because of our educated work force, then the present legislature is shortsighted and hypocritical when it claims its focus is Jobs.

Finally, I would never insult our small business entrepreneurs and skilled workers by attempting to take away their licenses. The prime sponsor of these bills was my opponent who took advantage of his narrow election to pursue an ideological agenda. My responsibility is to the whole community and to act in its best interest.

Capital Comments: Learning for legislators is on-going

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

Each week I shuttle between meetings in my office and committee rooms in the State House and the Legislative Office Building across the street.  Every meeting, whether with a constituent, a lobbyist or government official, is a learning experience.

If I were in school, a reader might compare it to moving between classrooms as much of a legislator’s role is being educated.  That means not listening to just one side of the story on legislation … but hearing the other side, too.

Last week I jotted down some information I gained from some of my meetings.

Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee:  As if we needed reminding, state governments have become very dependent upon federal government payments to states.  New Hampshire spent $2.271 billion of money received from the federal government in fiscal year 2011 that ended last June.  Total spending by the state in the same year, depending upon the figure used, was roughly $5 billion.  That means about 45 percent of state spending comes from Washington.

The implications for New Hampshire and other states are serious.  Spending from money we raise in-state  in the current two-year budget is down 11 percent from the prior biennium.  If the federal government, as advocated by leaders of both parties, cuts spending to reduce the national deficit and long term debt, some of those reductions will hit state governments. Continue reading

NH’s economy: good news balanced by challenges

Capital Comments from Senator Bob Odell

“Crossover” or midpoint in the 2012 session, was finished a week earlier amidst some of the busiest legislative days of the year.  That meant last week there were too few bills ready for either the House or Senate to meet.

A Wednesday not in Concord is very rare.  The day off gave me an opportunity to participate in an economic development breakfast in Newport hosted by Sugar River Bank in partnership with Public Service of New Hampshire.

The event brought out a roomful of business and community leaders to hear a presentation by PSNH’s Patrick McDermott on the status of the New Hampshire economy.  And while the recovery from the recession is slow, there are some positive long term indicators of the state’s economy and our quality of life. Continue reading

NH’s loons and another call for help

“The haunting cry of the common loon is vanishing from many New England waters. Whether we hear it much longer depends on us.” - from “Call of the Wild: Loons” by Kristen Laine (Yankee magazine, July/August 2011)

The Loon Preservation Committee and The New Hampshire Lakes Association are asking for help to protect our loons by signing a petition in support of SB 224 and by contacting state legislators.  (For the I-petition, click here).

Photo by John Rockwood

Three weeks ago, Sunapee News wrote about Senate Bill 224, an amendment to existing law that tackles the use of lead fishing gear known to be killing New Hampshire’s loons.

Since that time, the Senate amended and passed SB 224 and sent it over to the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee. (You can check the status of the bill, by clicking here.)

Last week, however, the state’s Fish and Game Commission voted 5-3 to oppose SB 224 “in a heartbreakingly close decision,” described by Harry Vogel, senior biologist and executive director of the Loon Preservation Committee.

“The commission’s decision will make it much harder to win this critical protection for our loons in the House,” Vogel wrote in a message to LPC supporters.

LPC knows about loons: It has studied loons for 35 years, and its data shows “lead fishing tackle is the largest contributor to documented adult loon mortality in the state.”

The loon population remains far below historical levels and the number of loon pairs on N.H.’s lakes decreased in 2011, after a record high number of deaths from ingested lead tackle in 2010. With multiple stressors impacting the population, the common loon remains a threatened species in the Granite State.

This takes us back to Laine’s article and words (from last summer), which express both a challenge and opportunity for today: “If having wildness in our lives is important, if we want to continue to hear the Far North cry of the loon across southern New England, we must intervene.”

Action

  1. Sign the I-petition in support of SB 224 (click here).
  2. Call, email, or write your State Representative (click here) and every member of the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee (click here). Explain why you support the bill and ask them to support it, too.
  3. Contact The NH LAKES or the Loon Preservation Committee.

Background

>>  The NH Lakes Association’s summary of SB 224, as amended: “The current law would remain in effect until 2015 – with both the use and the sale of lead sinkers 1 ounce or less and lead jigs less than 1 inch in length prohibited. In 2015, prohibitions on the use (but not the sale) of lead jigs measuring less than 2.5 inches in length would go into effect. In 2018, prohibitions on the sale of lead jigs less than 2.5 inches would go into effect, making both the use and sale of the listed lead tackle prohibited.”

>> Loons and Lead: A Dozen Details (PDF 127kb) — published by LPC and NH Lakes

New Hampshire’s loons need your help!

Advocacy alert: SB 224 is critically important legislation to New Hampshire’s loons. (Click on the links at the bottom of the article for more information and contacts.)

A fresh layer of snow blanketed New Hampshire this week, but rain arrived this weekend, and warmer days will follow.

In the spring, when the ice melts away from our lakes and ponds, the loons are among the first to return. Yet a persistent and preventable hazard awaits them.

Common Loon by John Rockwood. Courtesy of the Loon Preservation Committee.

Photo by John Rockwood. Courtesy of the Loon Preservation Committee.

Lead, a silent killer

The threat comes from lead fishing tackle, the largest contributor to documented adult loon mortality in the state, according to the Loon Preservation Committee.

New Hampshire lawmakers are looking at what to do about this silent killer.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is considering SB 224 . If enacted, it would strengthen current law, which fails to include jigs weighing less than one ounce but measuring longer than one inch. Sponsors of the bill are Senators Odell, Lambert, Forrester, and Carson; and Representatives Newton and Belk.

The Department of Environmental Services says SB 224 “would cover tackle that is the size range known to be ingested by loons.”

Supporters say SB 224 is critically important in helping to protect N.H.’s loons.

Loon mortalities in New Hampshire - Loon Preservation CommitteeFrom 1989-2010, lead fishing tackle caused the death of 119 loons, which represents 50% of the total adult loon mortalities for this time. And lead jigs caused 50% of the poisonings, LPC reports. (Click on the chart for a larger view.)

LPC comprehensively studied the effect of lead on N.H.’s loon population for the years 1989 through 2010. Formed in 1975, LPC does state-wide monitoring, research, management and outreach to preserve loons and their habitats.

“Lead fishing tackle is having a population-level impact on New Hampshire’s loons,” says LPC Senior Biologist and Executive Director Harry Vogel.

Loons are often perceived as an icon of a healthy lake. Because they feed at the top of the aquatic food web, loons are a biological indicator specified for contaminants in our lakes… If enacted, SB 224 would help to eliminate a pollution source that threatens the health of our lakes”  – Commissioner Thomas S. Burack, NHDES

Opponents to SB 224, including bass fishing advocates and tackle industry representatives, claim the science does not support changing the law, and the other threats to waterfowl are more significant.

LPC’s data, however, shows: “Lead has by far the largest impact in limiting New Hampshire’s loon population growth and viability of any currently quantified stressors.”

Opponents also argue the cost of fishing will go up if the law passes.

Threatened species

N.H. Fish and Game lists the Common Loon as a “threatened species.”

Population estimate: 550 adult loons.

Loons face multiple growing challenges: from domestic and wild predators, from loss of breeding areas to development and recreation, and from environmental pollution.

Lead poisoning occurs when ingested lead is absorbed into the blood stream. A loon with lead poisoning will die within 2 to 4 weeks after ingesting the lead tackle.

Taking action

In addition to legislative efforts to keep lead out of N.H. waters, environmental groups are active.

Locally, Lake Sunapee Protective Association offers a one-for-one exchange, a non-lead sinker for each lead sinker returned. And a 30-member, LSPA committee monitors loon sightings around Lake Sunapee and local ponds. The reports then go to the LPC.

“Get the Lead Out” is a statewide, summer campaign. LSPA, the Pleasant Lake Protective Association and the New Hampshire Lakes Association will again promote the effort in 2012.

LPC manages a program that provides artificial nesting rafts to loon pairs.

Yet in 2010, “despite a record number of nesting rafts floated by LPC staff and volunteers, the benefit to our loon population of our intensive raft program was entirely negated by just 11 pieces of lead tackle,” Vogel says. LPC staff and volunteers collected 11 loons that died from ingested lead fishing tackle in 2010. This was the highest number LPC has recorded to date.

The evidence is clear. Our loons need help. Lawmakers should close the loop hole in the lead-fishing-tackle law and adopt SB 224.

Click on the links to:

Capital Comments: RGGI, shoreland protection, and parakeets

By State Senator Bob Odell

“Tweet, tweet” Senators jokingly went back and forth. On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had its final public hearing for the 2011 session. And the hearing was on House Bill 651 allowing the sale and possession of monk, also called Quaker parakeets.

The end of our hearings on bills means that the end of session is drawing near with less than two months to go. The energy committee took care of 30 bills since its first meeting in January. The bills covered a wide range of subjects from river designations, wet lands definition issues and rules on hunting and fishing licensing. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Personal stories put faces to NH budget bills

By Senator Bob Odell

“This is amazing,” Diane Woods of Durham said, as she began her testimony before last Thursday’s Senate Finance Committee public hearing on the budget bills, House Bills 1 and 2.

More than 400 people signed up to speak.  And many of them got to speak during the 8 and 3/4 hours public hearing that was broken up only by a one hour recess for dinner.  Starting at 2 PM and concluding close to 11 PM, any citizen could sign up and when their name was called briefly present their story or background on how the proposed budget from the House would impact them.

For most of the time, six of the seven members of the Senate Finance Committee were at a table in the front of the room.  The hearing room was Representatives Hall with 400 seats and an hundred or so more in the gallery.  Every seat appeared to be taken when the hearing was opened.

Ms. Woods is correct.  It is an amazing process that allows any citizen to come and tell their story.  Many citizens fear and have deep concern that the cuts made by the House will stand.  You wish there could be more calm as the Senate has yet to put its imprint on the budget but if you are hanging by a thread and completely in fear that the House budget will stand and a program you need is being eliminated, you can understand the concern.

In some cases, those presenting were professionals including lobbyists serving the hospital association or Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.  The chief of Healthy Kids, the insurance program for children, warned against moving the program back into the government from her not-for-profit agency. Continue reading

Legislators okay changes to NH court system

Last week the New Hampshire Senate approved the so-call “circuit court bill” sponsored by Rep. Gary Richardson (D-Hopkinton) that will revamp the state’s court system.

“The reorganization would bring lots of staffing and management changes and reductions, with an overall projected savings of almost $1.5 million in staffing costs in the next four years,” wrote Senator Bob Odell (R-Lempster) in this week’s Capital Comments. “Our state courts are going to look different in the future.  While there is no change ahead for the Supreme Court and our superior courts, the new state circuit courts will replace the current probate and district courts and the judicial branch family division.  Each county will have a circuit court.”

The bill awaits action by Governor Lynch.

Visit Front Door Politics for background info; the Daily Dispatch (posted an article before the Senate vote) that puts the bill in context.

You can read the text of the bill via E-Lobbyist, another handy site.

Senate Budget Hearings Today | Front Door Politics

Today’s Daily Dispatch from Front Door Politics reports on today’s budget hearing in Concord. Click on the link below for the entire article.

Today’s Dispatch also mentions that the House budget would abolish the Department of Cultural Resources and defund the New Hampshire State Council of the Arts.

“If passed, that would make New Hampshire the only state in the country without an arts council or commission.”

Amongst those worried about these cuts are small business owners Sue and Steve Russell of Newbury. Sue and Steve are professional potters. You can read their opinion by viewing yesterday’s Sunapee News articles.

Now, back to today’s Dispatch…

Later today, the Senate Finance committee will hear public testimony for the first time on the overall $10.3 billion biennium budget passed by the House last month. Expect a long list of speakers to line up in Representatives Hall to support or oppose the myriad proposals for revenue and spending in 2012-2013. Senate budget writers have until June 2 to complete their version of the budget, at which point the House and Senate will have to hammer out any differences.

via Senate Budget Hearings Today | Front Door Politics.

Bill Tracker Upgrade and Updates | Front Door Politics

From Front Door Politics…

Bill Tracker: tracking the laws that matter to you. Search, sort, understand.Want to know who voted for what in the N.H. House and Senate? Our 2011 Bill Tracker now includes links to all roll call votes, as well as links to the text of every bill we’ve covered so far this session.

via Bill Tracker Upgrade and Updates | Front Door Politics.

Front Door Politics delivers jargon-free, non-advocacy reporting about state government written for the general public. We provide timely and accessible information as part of our mission: to foster a robust democratic process in New Hampshire by encouraging citizen engagement with state government.

It’s a challenging budget season

In this week’s Capital Comments, Senator Odell writes about the Senate Finance Committee and its works on the budget; the performance of “Annie” at the Newport Opera House; and Turning Points.

By State Senator Bob Odell

While Mondays and Fridays are usually quiet days in the State House, the Senate Finance Committee is using those days to hear budget presentations from departments and agencies.

Our meetings are held in Room 103 on the first floor of the State House.  On Friday, we could hear voices and cheering from the plaza in front of the State House as Tea Party adherents and others held an anti-tax rally.  On the other side of the State House, protesters in yellow shirts chanted loudly against cuts to higher education funding.

And in the corridor outside Room 103, a dozen men and women, some in religious garb, quietly stood or sat on the floor.  They have steadfastly been there whenever the Senate Finance Committee is in session.  One of their signs identifies them as the Interfaith Voices for a Humane Budget. Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 543 other followers