There are some weeks at the State House that seem to be too busy. In addition to the volume of activity, there is the variety of issues that keeps Senators bouncing from one subject to another. Some issues are minor while others could have major impacts for the state.
The week started with a holiday, Martin Luther King Day. Possibly that is why it felt like someone had put the gas pedal the floor on Tuesday with back to back meetings with stakeholders concerned about different bills, committee sessions with full agendas and our weekly leadership and caucus meetings.
Plans were in place for the full Senate to meet on Wednesday morning. A couple of controversial bills created the need for caucuses allowing Senators to discuss party positions on bills.
We voted on nearly 50 bills drawing roll call votes on having New Hampshire create a framework for a "health benefit exchange" under Obamacare (tabled) and whether not-for-profits doing $250,000 or more business with government should be required to send one board member for training for two hours every two years (passed). A vote on a new appropriation for higher education, given that the budget was set last June, was defeated along party lines. A gambling expansion bill was sent away to interim study as the Senate awaits action by the House.
During a recess, the Internal Affairs Committee met and voted an "ought to pass" recommendation on the Senate redistricting plan. There is not much public interest in redistricting. Senators, on the other hand, watch closely as the bill moves along.
The day before the Senate session, the Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony for the second week in a row on a bill that would make it possible for the Manchester Water Works to use current use for land it owns in adjacent towns. A 1911 law makes municipal water companies liable for property taxes on watershed protection land they own in other towns. And in 1976, those companies were excluded from using current use to lower their property taxes.
There are only two towns that are heavily impacted. Roxbury, a town of just over 200 residents receives nearly $80,000 in property taxes from the Keene water company. That represents about one-third of the town’s annual budget. For Auburn, it receives $800,000 in property taxes on 4,000 acres the Manchester Water Works owns in the town.
You can imagine our six member committee trying to sort this one out. Two members will vote the Manchester way because they represent parts of the city. I will vote the other way to support Roxbury. New Hampshire laws, passed decades ago, combined with ever increasing property taxes has brought this conflict between two water companies and two towns to the legislature for resolution.
On Thursday, a bill to establish a Loon Appreciation Day was no problem for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The committee listened to brief testimony and quickly voted to approve it.
A bill to limit the use of lead fishing jigs brought testimony from supporters and opponents. Supporters, including a professor from Tufts who autopsies loon carcasses, brought evidence including x-rays of birds who died from lead poisoning. And he had the lead fishing gear that had been taken from the stomachs of loons that had died.
There were anglers who opposed the bill. They, of course, appreciate the value of loons to our lakes and understood that ingestion of lead is fatal to them. But the definition of a jig vs. a lure or other fishing implement raised some practical questions for the five Senators on the committee.
The variety of subjects we deal with, even in one week, makes our work very interesting.
Some Lempster residents in the most rural parts of town do not have the option to have mail delivered to their homes. The postal service provides each of us with a box and we pick up our mail when we can.
There are times when it would be very helpful to have the mail delivered. But that would have meant that for a quarter of a century I would have missed out on the predictable although brief conversations with our part-time postal employee, Phyllis Clark, on many Saturdays.
That is the day my schedule usually allows me the time to go to the post office. There is something special about visiting for a minute or two about the weather, town affairs or the ups or downs in the lives of neighbors. Phyllis, in 33 years working at the post office, has had thousands of those conversations with patrons she has served.
Phyllis’s last day at the post office was Saturday. While I know I will see her from time to time at town events and other local spots, it will be unpredictable. I will miss the sureness that when I went to the post office I would see Phyllis. However simple a trip to the post office might seem, she was an important part of my weekends, with her good cheer and especially good humor.
I am thankful for living in rural New Hampshire and especially appreciative of the happiness that comes with small town folks knowing and liking each other. Thanks to Phyllis for her service and friendship. And best wishes to her in retirement.
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