Capital Comments: New Hampshire Senate lineup is in place

This week’s column by Senator Odell (R-Lempster) outlines the new committee lineup in the New Hampshire Senate: standing committees and appointments. Odell represents Senate District 8: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.

By State Senator Bob Odell

The New Hampshire Legislature has given substantial powers to the Senate President and Speaker of the House.  In the Senate, for example, the Senate President determines where you park your car, who will be your staff support person, which office you will occupy and possibly, most importantly, he determines which committees Senators will sit on for their two year terms.

Senator Peter Bragdon has been Senate President for less than a month but he has already made his mark on the Senate.  Staff assignments have mostly been made, Senators are in their new offices and everyone has a place to park their car.

Much of the work of the Senate is done by the standing committees so committee assignments are very important. As he was working on committee assignments, Senator Bragdon decided to fold the work of two committees into one committee.  The work of the committee that handled Fish and Game and wildlife issues has been added to the work the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee.

That committee, with its expanded range of issues to work on, will be renamed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  I will chair the committee for the next two years but will ask Senator John Gallus (Berlin) to preside when wildlife and Fish and Game Department issues are before the committee.  He had chaired the old committee and will now be Vice Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Two other committees were merged.  The Rules Committee and the Enrolled Bills Committee are now combined into the new Internal Affairs Committee.  The new committee will handle requests from Senators to introduce legislation outside the traditional filing period.  It will also oversee the processing of bills after they have been passed by the Senate.  Senator Russell Prescott (Kingston) will chair the new Internal Affairs Committee along with the Commerce Committee.  Senator Prescott is returning to the Senate after being out for two terms.

The emphasis in the legislature in 2011 will be focused on the budget.  On the revenue side, the Ways and Means Committee will have the responsibility of coming up with revenue projections in April for the next biennium that begins on July 1.  In addition to projecting revenues, the committee also handles any tax or other revenue issues that come before the Senate.   Senate President Bragdon has asked me to chair the Ways and Means for the next two year.  His predecessor, Senator Sylvia Larsen (Concord) also had me chair the committee during her four years as Senate President.

Senator Chuck Morse (Salem) will chair the all important Finance Committee.  Senator Morse has returned to the Senate after four years out of office.  In his two prior terms, he was on the Finance Committee and chaired the committee in his last term.  That was during John Lynch’s first term as Governor and a budget was produced that not only passed the legislature but was also signed into law by the Governor.  I will serve as Vice Chair of the Finance Committee.

Senator Bragdon has also appointed me to the Capital Budget Committee.  While I have served on the other committees since my first term, this will be my first experience on the Capital Budget Committee.  The work of this committee is to balance the needs of the state for capital projects within the state’s bonding capacity.  I am interested in making sure our long term investments will pay off for the state and our economy down the road.

Senator Matt Houde (Plainfield) will Chair the Judiciary Committee, the only appointment of a Democrat to a committee chairmanship.  Under Senator Larsen, with 14 Democrats to 10 Republicans, she appointed three Republicans as committee chairs.  Now, with a much wider margin for his team, 19 Republicans to 5 Democrats, Senator Bragdon has appointed just one Democrat to a chairmanship.

Five Senators have been named to the ten member Fiscal Committee which meets monthly.  This has been an increasingly important committee that oversees performance audits by the office of the Legislative Budget Assistant as well as vote to accept federal money and other grants and at times re-allocate money.  The Chair of the Finance Committee is designated by law as a member; the Finance Chair appoints two others (Senator D’Allesandro (Manchester) and myself; and, the Senate President has two appointments (Senator Gallus and himself).  Five members of the committee are appointed in a similar manner by the House.  And interestingly, as required by law, the Chair of the Fiscal Committee is the Chair of the House Finance Committee.

The Committee lineup is in place … ready for the work to begin.

The headline on the press release read:  “Fiscal Management Starts at Home.”

A report by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy shows that “Legislative Branch spending has grown by 27 percent in the last four years, compared to a 16.5 percent increase in total general fund spending over the same period.”  The new Senate President, Peter Bragdon (Milford) had taken action before the report came out.  The chief of staff’s salary has been slashed, positions have been eliminated and the goal is to reduce legislative branch annual spending by $250,000.  Senator Bragdon has us off to a quick start underlining that it will be easier for the legislature to pare spending in other parts of state government if it has already reduced its own budget.

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