Capital Comments: NH’s Budget Gap Remains No. 1 Issue

By State Senator Bob Odell

The bills ran the gamut from a “ridiculous” one to the cornerstone bill of this session addressing our huge and increasing budget deficit.

The Senate adopted rules earlier this year that required us to take action on all bills by May 12.  When leadership noticed that the House rules called for them to have a similar deadline but a day later, we changed our rules so that we could add an extra day to deal with legislation. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Budget Cuts Stir Things Up in Concord

By State Senator Bob Odell

The Governor’s proposed budget cuts for the next fiscal year that starts on July 1 have stirred up things in Concord.  The spending reductions are in an amendment to Senate Bill 450.  In its original form, the SB 450 deals with costs and expenditures at the Department of Health and Human Services so it is an appropriate vehicle for the Governor’s budget changes to be made.

Every reduction in spending, of course, means some program, contract or facility is going to be cut or eliminated.  And with that will go the jobs associated with those activities.  So, lobbyists and advocates for these programs are walking the State House halls looking for support to keep them from losing money in the next year.

One proposal that has drawn attention is the elimination of state contracts for three shelters for children ordered there by district courts.  The children would be sent to the Sununu Youth Center in Manchester.  The Governor’s plan says the state will save $4 million per year.

But will we save that money?

One of the shelters which would lose its contract, the Antrim Girls Shelter, has been run by Lutheran Social Services of New England since 1988.  Although girls are sent there from around the state, the shelter is a community institution supported by many churches, donors and volunteers from the Antrim area. Continue reading

Capital Comments: NH Senate Okays Healthcare Commission

By State Senator Bob Odell

The work of the legislature is at a mid-point.  Last week was “cross over” and both houses worked through the final bills they wanted to pass along to the other body.

Senators put in a twelve-hour session last Wednesday in order to avoid coming back for a second day.  A twelve-hour day, of course, includes a break for lunch and a break for dinner.

And the long day includes pre-session caucuses and meetings between leaders of each party that delayed the start of the session for an hour and a half.  Then, there were the periodic recesses that stopped business on the floor.   The party calling for the recess goes into an anteroom so Senators cam meet; the Senators from the other party crowd into a corner of the chamber for their discussions.  Some recesses are just a couple of minutes while  others can take much longer.

In spite of frequent recesses and time for meals, the Senate did a good bit of work last week.

The cost of health care including health care insurance took up much of the Senate’s time.  While President Barack Obama had signed the new national health care program the day before the Senate session, Senators were focused on Senator Maggie Hassan’s (Exeter) initiative to try to reduce health care costs in New Hampshire.  Her bill, SB 505, originally would have created a state oversight commission, patterned after a similar commission that has been in operation for a number of years in Maryland that operates like our Public Utilities Commission.

Initially, there was a firestorm of negative reaction.  Stakeholders fought back and in the end the legislation passed last week creates a commission to only study options for the state to try to hold down the continuing double-digit increases in health care insurance.

One statistic presented by Senator Hassan is that while personal income in New Hampshire rose 21 percent over a decade the costs of health care insurance rose 91 percent.  And within our state, one procedure at a hospital can be twice the cost at another hospital.

That underlies the serious concern many of us have that longer term the annual growth in health care costs including insurance is not sustainable.  Everyone agrees with the seriousness of the problem.  After assuring the minority members of the Senate that she would work with them to have minority party members of the commission and would seek to identify private money instead of state money to fund the commission, Senator Hassan’s bill passed on 24 to zero roll call vote. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Odell Suggests Wait for Gaming Commission Report

By State Senator Bob Odell

You can bet that the State Senate will vote to pass a huge gambling bill (SB 489) that has grown in scale over the more than ten years that Senator Lou D’Allesandro (Manchester) has been pushing his plan.

Senator D’Allesandro and other proponents talk about job creation, new state revenues, private sector investment and money to prop up the horse racing business.  Opponents cite the social costs of casinos, the loss of jobs in the surrounding area and loss of a quality of life built on the lowest crime rate in the country and the strength of our tourism business based on our recreational and scenic amenities.

One problem some see is that we face one bill … a sort of take it all or leave it situation.  I suggest we wait for the Governor’s Commission on Gaming to issue its report on May 25 to see other options.  I serve on the 15 member Commission and it is doing very good work because of its leadership, the integrity and talent of the commission members and the money that has been raised to provide the commission with a research staff, a writer and funds for experts from around the country to travel to New Hampshire to meet with us. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Lawmakers Anticipate School Building Aid Study

Senator Bob Odell was joined by Richards School students Ethan Houde (left) and Dylan Palmer in the Senate Chamber as part of Read Across America on March 3. The annual event brings students to Concord to share a morning reading and talking about their favorite books with their senator. As part of the tradition, everyone dons Cat-in-the-Hat style hats.

Senator Molly Kelly (Keene) is the Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  And she also has been heading up a study committee on New Hampshire’s school building aid grant program.

At our last Senate session, she brought to the floor a bill (SB 486) to suspend state building aid grants to school districts for the next fiscal year beginning on July 1.  In effect, the state is going to take a time out to assess the building aid program and determine if the distribution formula should be changed.

Any school building projects approved at the local level before the end of June will be fully funded by the state based on the current formula.

The school building aid program has been very successful for over half a century.  First begun in 1955 when the student population was growing rapidly as the children of the World War II generation were entering school creating the need for new school buildings.  State aid for new buildings and renovation projects pays for a portion of the principal repayment each year on outstanding bonds.

There is general agreement that the current costs to the state are unsustainable.  The number of projects, about 25 on average each year, and the costs of projects have been increasing even as student population is declining.  In 1990, the appropriation for school building aid was $10 million.  In 2009, that figure had grown to $44 million. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Pace Picks Up for State Senate

By State Senator Bob Odell

The pace of activity in the State Senate has been gradually picking up steam.

Our last session ran five hours and we dealt with over 40 bills.  And then any Senate bill that has a fiscal note indicting it could have an impact on the budget and state spending had to be out of committee by Thursday afternoon.  That allows those bills to go to the Senate floor and if passed then be referred to the Finance Committee to assess financial implications. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Stark Reminders of a Changing World

By State Senator Bob Odell

Last week was our annual legislative break.  It gave me the opportunity for a short trip to Portland, Oregon to spend a few days with a couple of grandsons.  Those two boys, seven and five years old, certainly helped take a lawmaker’s mind pretty much away from legislative issues and the state budget.

There are, of course, many stark reminders of how the world has been changing.   How about a $25 per charge for your bag when you check in at the airport?  And if overweight, the fee could be over $100. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Repeals and Changes to Correct Legislative Errors

By State Senator Bob Odell

The legislature often is accused of making mistakes.  And it certainly happens.  Sometimes they are small; other times they are humdingers.

There are the minor errors.  Last fall, Paul Kelly, the director the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission asked me to introduce a bill (SB 367) to update laws for the agency.  The agency drafted the language, we had a public hearing and with an amendment and the Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously “ought to pass” in support of the bill.  Later on the same day, the director came back and said there was a drafting error.  It was a one word change that was necessary … an “and” for an “or.”  So, when the bill comes up at the Senate session on March 3, I will offer the simplest possible floor amendment to make sure that every word in the bill is correct. Continue reading

Capital Comments: The Recession & State Government

By State Senator Bob Odell

Money … more appropriately, the lack of it hangs over the State House in Concord.

Last week we nearly depleted our “rainy day” fund, the Treasurer reported on a successful bond sale, the governor pledged to keep New Hampshire a low tax state, and Claremont offered to help the state out with costs of its court.

To start, after being in business over 200 years, New Hampshire’s savings account is down to less than $10 million.  The joint legislative Fiscal Committee, made up of five members of the House and  five Senators, voted to take $80 million from our savings account which is known as the “rainy day” fund to balance the books for the fiscal year that ended last June 30. 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

Capital Comments: Thank you Helen Schotanus

In this week’s column, scroll down to read about Helen Schotanus and her years of service to public education.

By Senator Bob Odell

Driving to Concord for the first day of committee hearings in the New Year, I looked forward to a short and pretty casual meeting of the Senate Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee.  After all, there was just one bill (SB 73), held over from last year, to be heard and it related to an annual report on the state’s efforts to reduce energy consumption. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Financial Troubles and Uncertainty Still Ahead

By Senator Bob Odell

The January edition of State Legislatures features a story titled “Weathering the Storm” and it is not about snow, wind or low winter temperatures.  No, the article is about the weathering the recession.

As the Speaker of the House, Terie Norelli (Portsmouth), and the Senate President, Sylvia Larsen (Concord), gavel the House and Senate into the first meeting of the 2010 session at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, weathering the economic storm in New Hampshire will be on the minds of many legislators.  This is not a budget year as the state’s two year budget was passed back in June.  But, there are still many financial issues that face House and Senate members. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Spending is Constrained

By State Senator Bob Odell

The lowest paid state employees are the court security officers including my neighbor.

As chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I serve on the Joint Committee on Employee Relations.  It is a blue chip committee chaired by the Speaker of the House.  The Senate President, chairs of key House and Senate financial committees and minority leaders of both chambers serve on the committee as required by statute.

The employee relations committee has a narrow responsibility.  It must hold a public hearing on labor contracts and make a recommendation on each contract to the legislature.  So, the committee needs to meet infrequently.

The committee held a public hearing last week on a labor contract for the approximately 130 district court security officers that are currently paid $65 per day.  If they work a full week, that would be $8.67 per hour.  That is $3 less per hour than the next lowest paid position in state government. Continue reading

Capital Comments from Jakarta Indonesia

By State Senator  Bob Odell

Jakarta, Indonesia—What is Bob Odell doing in Indonesia?  That is a good question. Continue reading

Capital Comments: 1000+ Bills Await NH Legislature in 2010

New Hampshire Senate Chamber New Hampshire's Senate chamber in the Capitol Building in Concord.

Twenty-four Senate members introduced 243 bills for 2010. House members introduced 696 bills. The NH Senate chamber in the Capitol Building in Concord.

By State Senator Bob Odell

Last week, Governor Lynch announced his choice to fill a vacancy on the three member state Liquor Commission.  The Governor has chosen local business leader Joe Mollica from Sunapee to fill the slot.  Joe’s name was presented to the Executive Council at their regular meeting on Wednesday, Dec 9.

Continue reading

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