It was a week of many bits and pieces with no overriding legislative action to report from Concord. But there was still important activity with impacts on our region.
To start, some very good news. There were many applicants for the vacant spot on the New Hampshire Liquor Commission but in the end Joe Mollica, a Sunapee resident and successful owner of restaurants for more than two decades, got the Governor’s nod for the appointment.
The Executive Council, which votes to confirm Liquor Commission appointments, held a public hearing on Joe’s nomination on January 13. The Council voted unanimously last week to confirm his appointment.
Eager to get to work, Joe was at Liquor Commission headquarters first thing the next morning to complete his new employee paperwork. That done, he went to the State House to be sworn in by Governor Lynch. It was a joy to stand with Joe’s wife, Allison, as he raised his hand and took his oath of office.
Then Joe headed right back to the office to begin work. The success of the Liquor Commission is critically important to state revenue. It is a nearly $500 million business and the legislature is always pressing the three-member commission for more profits. Those profits come from sales to residents but the sales to out-of-state customers are vital to growth. The state has budgeted more than $10 million per month in profits from liquor sales for the current biennium.
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More good news. The number of students dropping out of school has fallen dramatically. The Governor held a press conference to announce the new statistics on drop outs hailing the 30 percent reduction in drop outs in the school year 2008-2009 with 24 high schools having a cut in their drop out rates of over 50 percent. Four high schools had no drop outs.
In my first term in the Senate, I headed a study committee looking into what were the major causes for students to drop out of school. The causes were well known to education professionals but much less known to legislators. We also learned there were proven strategies for addressing the problem.
One issue was youngsters being lost, miscounted or double counted as they moved from one school district to another. The recommendation was to have a unique identification number for each student. In the next session of the legislature, a bill was passed to create a unique number for each student … a simple but significant step toward addressing the drop out situation.
The student number helped to produce the statistics used by the Department of Education recent report.
Governor Lynch fought for legislation to have students remain in school until age 18 or until they receive a diploma or equivalent. He added some funding for alternative programs directed to drop out prevention. Those efforts combined with initiatives at the state and school district level have, it seems to me, focused attention more than ever on preventing drop outs. There is no single answer or program that has driven drop out rates down but rather that educators, community leaders and government officials have made drop out prevention a major priority.
And the benefits of reducing drop out rates is that more youngsters will enter the workforce better prepared to be successful and New Hampshire will have more qualified new employees entering the workforce. We all win when students graduate from high school.
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You should check your facts before quoting statistics. In a recent radio interview, I was discussing some problems facing New Hampshire and our region. The list I offered included the high rate of state prison inmates who violate their parole or probation and are returned to prison. Statewide, the number who return for violations within 3 years of release is over 50 percent.
I confidently cited a recent report which said the rate for Sullivan County was over 80 percent. That is far higher than any other county. The problem is that the number is misleading. The county "revocation rate" for the fiscal year that ended last June was 36.9 percent, according to Rudy Grznna, the chief probation/parole officer for Sullivan County. That puts the county below the national average and well below the rate represented in a recent Corrections Department report.
The discrepancy comes from the fact that inmates sentenced out of Sullivan County are very often not released back to Sullivan County. They go and live in other jurisdictions but when they return to prison that revocation is charged back to the original sentencing county. The state report, for example, showed 74 revocations over the past year in Sullivan County when there were actually 31 of which two were for the same person. Thus, 29 people were released to Sullivan County, violated their probation or parole and were returned to prison. My count would suggest 45 persons were released to other jurisdictions where they, unfortunately, were later returned to prison.
Getting the numbers right is important to those involved. From my prior reporting and general observations, the Sullivan County and parole and probation officers across the state do a good job trying to balance public safety while deciding which parolees need to be returned to prison.
This was a good lesson. As clear as they appear and however authoritative the source, in this case a state report, one needs to be cautious using other people’s statistics.
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