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.

The two “big” bills for the session related to changes to the Comprehensive Shoreline Protection statute (Senate Bill 46) and House Bill 519 that would end New Hampshire’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). That is a program for controlling carbon dioxide emissions and provides funds for weatherization and other projects to reduce energy use.

Bills are assigned to committees by the Senate President. Every bill must have a public hearing that has been noticed letting people know when and where the hearing will be held at least four days before the hearing. We had hearings with just one or two people attending; others like the one for RGGI drew a couple of hundred people over two mornings of hearings.

Of the 30 bills we handled, the committee made recommendations to the full Senate as follows: 18 received ought to pass recommendations; 8 were sent to the floor with a recommendation of ought to pass with an amendment; 2 had an inexpedient (kill the bill) recommendation; and 2 had re-referred recommendations so they will come back to the committee for work this fall and a Senate floor vote in January.

And the “tweet, tweet, tweets?” It is currently illegal to own or sell monk parakeets although it is openly done all over the state. After selling these parakeets for years, a Nashua pet store owner testified that he found the practice was illegal only a few weeks ago. There is widespread ownership of the birds that are valued from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. There are even monk-Quaker parakeet societies.

The only opponent was from the Fish and Game Department. The parakeets originated in South America, They were imported by the hundreds of thousands until importation was banned decades ago. There are wild colonies of them in areas where they came into the United States. But in New Hampshire, the annual Audubon wild bird surveys have not found a single monk parakeet.

They are too valuable for owners to casually let them loose and our hard winters make the life of monk parakeets in the wild very short. In summary, we have a law on the books that is inappropriate and it is also not being enforced.

The only opposition came from a Fish and Game Department representative. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, he asked that if the committee did recommend passage of the bill that it be amended to make a technical change in the language.

The committee passed the bill understanding that I will bring in a floor amendment to meet the Fish and Game request. Not a big issue for most of us but for monk parakeet owners HB 651 is very important. I am sure there will be a more good humored “tweets” as the bill goes to the Senate floor on Wednesday.

What audit of state government activities would be nearly 400 pages long?

It is the Single Audit of Federal Assistance Programs. That audit was presented to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee last week. The Fiscal Committee acts on various financial matters as assigned to it in laws passed by the legislature. Audits are presented to the committee, agencies respond to deficiencies found and the audit is accepted and distributed to the public.

The audit covered fiscal year 2010 that ended last June. The state received money from 22 different federal agencies ranging from US Department of Agriculture to the Department of Homeland Security including grants from the Election Assistance Commission. Federal funds went to nearly 20 different New Hampshire agencies.

In fiscal year 2010, the state administered 337 federal programs with funds from Washington of approximately $2.6 billion. The largest amount of funds, $1.2 billion went to the Department of Health and Human Services with about $843 million going to what is referred to as the “Medicaid Cluster.” On the low end, the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center received $33,317. The federal stimulus money that was audited totaled $164 million or about six percent of total money the state received.

The fiscal year 2010 money from Washington was significant. It was more than we raised from state revenue for our general fund and education trust fund. It is not only the aggregate amount of money involved but how widespread are the departments and agencies that receive federal dollars that draws your attention.

Other federal funds, not part of this audit, received in fiscal year 2010 include grants and contracts with the University System of New Hampshire, the Business Finance Authority, Pease Development Authority and the Community Development Finance Authority.

The takeaway from the audit presentation is pretty simple: we receive a lot of money from Washington and it goes to a wide array of state agencies.

Senator 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. He is the chairman of the following committees: Ways and Means; Energy, Environment and Economic Development; and Finance. He is also on the Capital Budget Committee.

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