Capital Comments: The Election Results and the Legislative Process

By State Senator Bob Odell

Legislators have often worked to impose mandates on local schools to teach civics.  It is natural that politically active people would want to make sure that public schools engage and motivate students to become good citizens.

And while school work is important, the power of an idea to pay respect to the staff and graduates of a high school who are serving or have served in our military seemed to this writer a very powerful addition to our attempts at civic engagement for students.

With the support of Stevens High School principal Paul Couture, substitute teacher Carol Thebarge’s idea for a Veterans Day ceremony for the students and staff to honor alumni who have served in the military was a new approach for involving students in our annual Veterans Day holiday.

An American flag, which had been saluted by our fighting men and women, and sent to Carol by Stevens High School graduate Army Sergeant David Carrier now serving in Afghanistan, was raised during an emotional ceremony.

I was at the ceremony to read a letter of support and congratulations to Stevens High School from Governor John Lynch.  Standing during the ceremony at the top of the stairs at the entryway to the school, I could see the attentiveness and respect the students showed during the program.

The highlights of the program were the reading of names of staff and alumni who have served and the raising the flag that so recently had flown in Afghanistan by Stevens High School teacher and nearly 40 year veteran of the Coast Guard, Tom Liveston.

I saw no texting, no cell phones in use and general student appreciation as all of us learned a new way to show our respect and to honor our men and women who have served or are serving our nation in the military.  Congratulations and thanks to Carol Thebarge for implementing a wonderful idea that is as good as any civics mandate from Concord.

While the majority in the new Senate has decided that Peter Bragdon (Milford) will be the Senate President and the House majority will determine the next Speaker of the House this week, there are hundreds of decisions on standing committee appointments, committee chairmanships, assignments of office space and parking spaces to be made.

There are dozens of statutory committees, commissions and councils that have members appointed by the House Speaker or the Senate President.  I canceled a meeting last week of the legislative subcommittee of the State Parks System Advisory Council. There are two Senators on the subcommittee and one was defeated in the election.  There are three House members; one was defeated, one did not seek re-election.  Only two of the five legislators are left on the committee.  Subcommittee work will have to await new appointments.

The Commission to Study Business Taxes has been meeting weekly to insure that we meet our statutory obligation to submit an interim report by December 1. The final report is not due for two years.  Business taxes are a complicated subject on the best of days and the input of veteran legislators with professional tax experience is important.

There are four House members on the commission; two were defeated.  One is a CPA and the other is a lawyer and CPA.  Three members are from the Senate.  One was defeated. And she is an experienced attorney with a practice involving general business and real estate matters.

The ripple effect of the decisions of voters on Election Day is forcing change throughout the legislative process. The new House Speaker and Senate President will need to move quickly to fill dozens of vacancies on study commissions and other committees.

The new leadership teams in the House and Senate will have full court presses put on them by members seeking appointments to favored committees.  A letter has been circulated to all newly elected House members asking them to submit their three choices for committee assignment.  The process in the Senate is no less deliberate, just a bit more subtle.

Our local Chambers of Commerce provides many services to our small business community. We all know it is those small businesses that are at the core of our successful regional economy.

Twice a year, for example, the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce hosts a “salute” breakfast to recognize businesses being established, moving into the area or changing location.  It is an opportunity to have chamber members see what is going on and to encourage and possibly help the new or expanding businesses.

The new businesses in the area recognized last week at the Fall Salute Breakfast included People’s United Bank, a mortgage lender; Watts Bakery, a new Main Street store; City Auto Sales, a trailer and used cars dealer; Pinnacle, a bait and tackle shop that will also sell hunting and fishing licenses; and, Northwood Power Equipment, a new location for a major regional dealer of tractors, backhoes and other power equipment.

The Community Alliance has a new volunteer driver program which will match volunteer drivers with people who need rides to go shopping, to get to medical appointments and other daily tasks that require transportation.

Two businesses were recognized as they expand and move to new locations.  Lake Sunapee Plumbing and Heating has relocated to their newly renovated building on Sunapee Street.  NAPA Auto Parts has also moved to their new location on Sunapee Street.

Keeping up with what’s going on in Concord

Front Door Politics (in NH) says, “We’ve got something for everyone.” And they sure do. Whether you’re a casual observer, political junkie or have a special interest, check out it out. Last week’s daily updates, all about Granite State politics and policy decisions, covered:

For more…visit Front Door Politics.

Capital Comments: State Budget Watchers Still Nervous

By State Senator Bob Odell

The Senate’s weekly calendar is available on line on Thursday night and delivered to Senate offices in print form each Friday morning.  Printed on bright yellow paper, the weekly calendar lists the bills coming up in the next Senate session, committee schedules for the upcoming week and what bills each will be addressing, and other meeting and event notices.  The House, too, has a weekly calendar differentiated by a blue cover from our yellow calendar.

In just a few pages, the calendar becomes a basic tool for Senators and staff, lobbyists and journalists.  It is the basic document to tell you where you need to be each day of the week. Continue reading

NH State Parks Policy Forum Jan. 25 in Sunapee

Three local legislators will be discussing at a public forum in Sunapee proposed policy changes for NH state parks. Senator Bob Odell, Rep. Ricia McMahon, and Rep. Sue Gottling, at a meeting hosted by Friends of Mount Sunapee, will speak about several legislative initiatives that focus on parks and the state park system. The forum will be held at the Sunapee Methodist Church, Lower Main Street, Sunapee on Monday January 25 starting at 6:45 p.m. (with greetings. The forum will begin at 7 p.m.) Continue reading

New Draft Plan for NH State Parks: Change is Needed

Mount Sunapee State Park Beach in Newbury, NH

A recently released, new draft of the Ten-Year Strategic Development and Capital Improvement Plan for New Hampshire’s state parks says change is needed. The plan proposes new funding models, capital investment, and new directions in management and operations.

The Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) released the report November 23 in Concord, and is accepting public comment on the plan through December 24, 2009. Comments can be made by emailing, writing or attending one of the remaining public hearings, in Peterborough on December 7 (at the Peterborough Town Hall at 6 p.m.)  and in Lancaster on December 8 (at DRED North Country Resource Center at 6 p.m.) Details are available via http://www.nhstateparks.org or by calling 603-271-3556.

According to Ted Austin, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, the plan is intended to reverse the trend from gradual decline to a vibrant, sustainable State Park System. It will act as a catalyst for change and a template for management to take advantage of opportunities to improve the system.

Managing the State Parks more effectively will require new partnerships, new thinking, new collaboration between DRED, Friends groups, the legislature, and host communities. — Ted Austin, director of the NH Division of Parks and Recreation

The Division of Parks and Recreation, one of four divisions of DRED, manages 74 properties, including state parks, beaches, campgrounds, historic sites, trails, waysides, and natural areas and is comprised of the Parks Bureau, Bureau of Historic Sites, Bureau of Trails, and Cannon Mountain.

Austin explained that the Division faces financial and operational challenges. The funding challenge is that in 1991 the Division became a self-funding agency and has consistently has been running a deficit. That deficit has averaged, on an annual basis for the past 20 years, $404,746. The result has been deferred maintenance, reduced programming, and a growing backlog of capital needs. Recent capital appropriations in 2007 and 2009 have begun to turn the tide, but more is needed.

The plan calls for eliminating a carry-forward loss created by the annual deficit, projected as $1.8 million for FY ’09. It also calls for:

·         $750,000 in non-capital needs to replace worn-out equipment, needed for the next operating season

·         $ 1.7 million in capital investments for immediate stabilization of facilities in the next three years

·         $28.5 million in capital to attend to deferred maintenance needs in the next five years

·         Some four dozen strategies for more effective management and stewardship

·         New models for management, stewardship, and revenue generation

Austin also acknowledged that the Division must be managed and operated better.  “The parks culture must change to one of accepting responsibility, of tracking results, of establishing baselines for measurement and comparison of results, and for benchmarking performance.”

The plan includes the following:

·         Comprehensive assessment of the condition of each state park

·         Strategic goals and recommendations

·         First ever Opinion Survey of Park Users

·         Financial Overview of the Park System

·         Economic Impact of State Parks

·         Extensive Park by Park Capital Improvement Plan

·         A proposed new Approach to Managing State Parks

Comments on the plan can be emailed to johanna.lyons@dred.state.nh.us.

Read related articles:

New draft plan: NH state parks need direct funding (Nashua Telegraph)

Poor Parks – N.H. Funding Strategy Has Failed (Valley News editorial)

Parks hopes to keep ‘Friends’ in mind-Volunteers critical to revitalization (Concord Monitor)

See ConservationNH YouTube video of DRED’s press conference announcing the plan with Commissioner George Bald (DRED) and Director Ted Austin (Division of Parks and Recreation).

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Capital Comments: Governor Lynch in Clarement last week to discuss jobs

By New Hampshire State Senator Bob Odell

Governor John Lynch was in Claremont last week hosting the first in a series of Jobs Cabinet Roundtables to be held around the state.  Some area employers and civic leaders were invited to sit down and discuss the employment picture in our area with the Governor, Labor Commissioner George Copadis, Employment Security Commissioner Tara Reardon, Commissioner George Bald of the Department of Resources and Economic Development and other Concord officials.  Senator Matt Houde (Plainfield) and I were also asked to participate.

The Governor is following the pattern of his successful Jobs Roundtables three years ago.  And he took action on some of the suggestions he heard then and restarted the job training fund and encouraged the legislature to create the research and development tax credit and NH HealthFirst.

The economic environment has certainly changed since 2006.  The Governor kicked off the meeting saying: “My priorities are helping our businesses grow and become more competitive; helping families struggling in these tough times; and continuing to make government more responsive and efficient.”

What was the overriding theme of the discussion with employers?  There are jobs that need to be filled but finding qualified employees is not easy.  Qualified means a prospective employee has technical skills but also life skills.  Life skills include being presentable at an interview, getting to work every day and on time, working hard in the workplace, no violations of rules on drug and alcohol use and many others.  At least five employers cited the lack of these basic personal attributes as why they cannot find workers to fill current openings.  The same situation is raised at every business meeting and plant tour I take.

To reduce or eliminate this problem will take decades.  But it needs to be addressed if our region is going to be competitive in the United States and around the world.

*   *   *

I have enjoyed going to the annual Sarah Josepha Hale Award at the Newport Opera House for more than 20 years.  As I look at the list of New England authors honored with the Hale award since the award was first given to Robert Frost in 1956, the list has many of the greatest writers and poets of the last half century.

In my time I remember Tom Wicker talking about the focus of one his books, the historic year of 1968.  And William Manchester who I always think of as the biographer of Winston Churchill but in his Hale presentation he read dramatic passages from his book on his experiences as a soldier in the Korean War.  Ernest Hebert before becoming a novelist had worked as a lineman out of a utility substation right in Newport.  He said he wrote to lift up the working person, often those at the bottom of the job ladder.

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the first African American to win the Hale award which was presented to him recently.  Not simply reading from one of his books, he went high tech using a computer generated presentation that awed the large crowd.  He told the story of his family within the context of genealogy and the use of DNA to trace a person’s heritage.  Thanks to DNA he traces his own heritage several generations back to an Irishman and an English woman.  While he heads the African American studies program at Harvard University, he is just barely African American genetically.  He is 49.4% white and 50.6% black.

Using stories from his own PBS series, “African American Lives, Their Past Was Lost Until Now,” Professor Gates’ fact filled presentation was a real change from traditional acceptance speeches.  And I think it will be long remembered.

Professor Gates, in his answer to a question from the audience, let us know he is in regular contact with the Cambridge, MA police officer who arrested him.  And that they drank cold Sam Adams beer at their White House meeting with President Barack Obama.

*   *   *

One satisfaction for legislators is to see that legislation they worked to pass is having a real impact.

In February, 2005, I was the prime sponsor of legislation (Senate Bill 5) to create a study committee to look at the operations and finances of our state parks system.  The bill passed without dissension and was signed into law in June, 2005.

I chaired what became known as the “SB 5 study committee.”  We traveled around the state and collected data on the park system and produced a report.  The recommendations included state funding for capital improvements, creation of a bureau of historic sites and a State Parks Advisory Council.  In the last biennial budget, there was the first appropriation of funds for capital improvements in 40 years.  Another appropriation is in the current budget.  The historic sites bureau is up and running and the State Parks Advisory Council meets regularly and has substantial input to the department on important park system policies and long range planning.

In my first term, I was asked to chair a study committee on school drop outs.  There were many important issues that came before the committee but the overriding one, surprisingly, was that we could not track school children.  They were being lost.

The proposed answer was a unique student identification number.  I co-sponsored legislation introduced by Senator Jane O’Hearn (Nashua) to create this number.  At a meeting of the Statewide Education Improvement and Assessment Program Legislative Oversight Committee, on which I serve, the Department of Education reported that the student number system is working and giving local school officials a new tool to measure progress and make adjustments in their curriculum and programming.  And we also know where to find our students.

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.

Advisory Panel Works on Plan for NH State Parks

The AP reports: An advisory council continues to work on a master plan for New Hampshire’s state parks after an earlier draft raised concerns that the state was planning to get rid of a large chunk of property. Brought to you via Nashuatelegraph.com.

Lorie McClorey, the Sunacom.com columnist for Grantham, writes: “Make reservations to attend the symposium ‘Water… More important than oil?’ from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at the South Cove Activity Center. Sponsored by the Eastman Charitable Foundation, the program will address conserving water and land resources in Grantham, Springfield and Enfield. Participants will come from the conservation commissions in all three towns, the Eastman Lakes & Streams and SustainAbility committees, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Ausbon-Sargent Land Preservation Trust, the Nature Conservancy and the Upper Valley Land Trust.” Read more via Sunacom.com

The New Hampshire Energy and Climate Collaborative will hold a meeting on Thursday, October 8 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Local Government Center, 25 Triangle Park Drive, Concord. The public and media are welcome to attend the working meeting, which is a continuation of the Collaborative’s efforts to facilitate the implementation of the NH Climate Action Plan, which was released by Governor Lynch in March 2009.

The Collaborative is in the process of developing the support and resources necessary to carry out its long-term efforts, including the development of a speakers bureau organized in cooperation with Clean Air – Cool Planet, and an inventory of the efforts already underway to address energy and climate issues across the state.

Further information about the NH Climate Action Plan can be found at: www.des.nh.gov by clicking on Hot Topics. For more information about the Collaborative and the upcoming meeting, contact Chris Skoglund, Energy and Transportation Analyst for NH Dept. of Environmental Services, 603 271-7624 or Christopher.Skoglund@des.nh.gov.

While at the NH-DES website, one can see the 2009 Fall drawdown dates for lakes and ponds around the Granite State. For Lake Sunapee, a 3-foot drawdown “from full” is to start October 13. It takes place in Sunapee into the Sugar River.

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