The predictable early January rush of legislative activity is underway. One of the early votes in the Senate will be to approve the deadlines that will keep us moving along and insure that our work will be done by adjournment in June. Our rules and deadlines have proven to me, year after year, the value of this discipline in the legislative process.
The orderliness that comes from adhering to deadlines along with strict procedures imposed by the Senate President means that there is a real sense of organization within the Senate. Little things that might seem routine to others such as starting sessions on time is new to the Senate.
There were more than a few jokes about "Senate time" which meant sessions starting late, long breaks during sessions and having our sessions run long into the night. Senator Bragdon has been firm in his management of the Senate during sessions and the memory of "Senate time" is beginning to fade away.
Senate rule 8-1 deals with deadlines. Amendments voted on at our first meeting will put in place the Senate’s schedule for 2012. That includes March 29 which will be the "Last Day to ACT on Senate bills. CROSSOVER." Pretty emphatic language but crossover marks the halfway point in the legislative process which is always a happy benchmark for House and Senate members.
And the date many legislators look to is June 7 which will be the "Last Day to ACT on Committee of Conference Reports" or more simply stated, it will be the last day of regular legislative sessions in 2012. Of course, the sign up period for candidates for the fall election will have already begun by then.
The start of the 2012 legislative year will see a flurry of press releases, press conferences and other visible signs the House and Senate members are back at work. Behind the scenes, of course, there are the mundane tasks that keep the legislative process moving along.
Every bill introduced is guaranteed that it will have a properly noticed public hearing, a vote in the relevant committee on a recommendation to the full body and then a vote in the chamber where the bill started.
Who schedules the bills for public hearings? That is one of the tasks of committee chairs. I am one of two Senators who chair two committees. In my case it is the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
So far, the Senate President’s office has sent me 10 bills for the Ways and Means Committee. Working with the committee aide, Sonja Caldwell, a Senate staff veteran since 2003 who is also Senator Lou D’Allesandro’s (Manchester) staff assistant, we divided the bills up so they could be heard in public hearings in January. That leaves future hearing dates in February for additional Senate bills or some bills coming over from the House.
Starting on Jan. 10, we will take up what Sonja and I anticipate will be pretty simple bills. There is one to exclude some interest from the business enterprise tax (Sen. Barnes is the prime sponsor), a change to the commercial and industrial property tax exemption (Sen. Gallus), and a bill dealing with property held for water supply or flood control (Sen. DeBlois).
The next week we will have hearings on my bill to increase the research and development tax credit against the business profits tax. I will also have a second bill up that day which is relative to the refund of tax overpayments related to a fraudulent investment scheme. I introduced this bill at the request of the Department of Revenue Administration in response to the FRM Ponzi scheme that cost some New Hampshire investors millions of dollars.
A third bill to be heard that day is sponsored by Senator D’Allesandro that makes a change in the statute on the penalty assessment on fines for criminal offenses.
I left a phone message for Senator Andy Sanborn (Henniker) that Jan. 24 will be "Sanborn Day" in Ways and Means Committee. Senator Sanborn has four bills and Sonja and I decided that we would group them together and hear them on one day as a courtesy to the Senator.
His bills deal with property taxes on certain manufactured housing, notice requirements and payment of interest by the Department of Revenue Administration for overpayments and underpayments of taxes, changes to the statute on the waiver of state fees associated with historic preservation, and a proposal on how we use boat fee revenue.
Most of these bills look to observers as being technical and modest changes to current law. But the uncertainty is that we have no idea how many people will show up to testify or observe our public hearings, what stakeholders have or possibly have not been identified, and what information may come forward about possible positive or negative impacts the proposed changes could cause.
Key is that the hearing process insures that every bill is heard in public, anyone who wants to testify in favor or opposition will be welcome and there will be some surprises as to how important these bills are some taxpayers, businesses, a department of state government or even an individual.
Scheduling bills for public hearings may not sound any more exciting than the subject matter of the bills but is an essential part of the legislative process.
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