The predictable court battles over the once a decade process of redrawing legislative district lines does not make exciting news. That is understood.
This year the state is being sued by the City of Manchester and a number of other municipalities over how the legislature has determined the boundaries for new House districts.
The appeals to the courts 10 years ago were over House districts and Senate districts alike. This year the Governor signed the Senate redistricting bill but had his veto of the House redistricting overturned by the House and Senate.
If you do not like the new districts, your next step is to go to the courts. This year there has been a new factor. The Speaker of the House, William O’Brien (Mont Vernon), has sought an Emergency Motion to Intervene in the case being "… in the best position to understand, explain and defend the redistricting process and to articulate and defend … the legislative policy decision underlying …" the plan.
Sounds good? Not to Senate President Peter Bragdon (Milford) who filed a brief last Tuesday objecting to the Speaker’s motion to intervene in the case. The issue is not the specifics of the redistricting plan. The issue, based on Senator Bragdon’s brief, is that the Constitution prohibits the Speaker from being an intervener.
The reason is Part I, Article 30 of the New Hampshire Constitution which reads: "The freedom of deliberation, speech, and debate, in either house of the legislature, is so essential to the rights of the people, that it cannot be the foundation of any action, complaint, or prosecution, in any other court or place whatsoever."
I have a constituent who periodically tells me legislators should be impeached or thrown out of the office when, in his mind, they violate the constitution. It is hard sometimes to explain that deliberating and voting in the legislature is protected from citizens’ petitions or government prosecution.
In the Senate President’s opinion, federal and state constitutions have clauses on the protection of legislators that appear to have emanated from the English Bill of Rights of 1689. That Bill of Rights was written so there could be freedom of speech and debate in Parliament without the king having the power to prosecute or intimidate legislators for their independence, what they say or how they vote.
Senate President Bragdon’s brief says no legislator, not even the Speaker, may waive this privilege in the Constitution and thus the court should not allow him to intervene in the redistricting case. A press release issued about the Bragdon brief says "either requiring or allowing an individual legislator to testify in court concerning legislative policy" violates the "speech and debate" clause of our Constitution.
If the Speaker testifies in the redistricting court case, the argument is that legislative privilege of Senators and other House members would be put at risk. They might be compelled to testify in the case if the Speaker is allowed to testify.
There has been plenty of sparring over legislative goals and strategies between the House and the Senate over the last couple of years. That is not unusual. But the Concord Monitor headline "Senate bucks speaker’s case" summed up the situation but not other implications of the legal contest over whether or not the Speaker can testify in the redistricting case.
I have written about it before. The Senate President sticks to the rules, legislative or constitutional.
April is the state’s largest revenue month for the general and education trust funds. Revenue came in right on the mark with estimates put in the budget last June.
The state took in $250.5 million, just shy of the goal of $252.6 million. We were off by just $2.1 or less than 1 percent. April revenue this year is up $2.3 million over last year. Looking back over past April revenue patterns one finds that we were under estimates last year by $29.5 million, down in 2010 by $41.8 million and off a whopping $51.5 million in 2009. You have to look at April 2008 for the last time revenue exceeded the budget plan.
So far this year traditional taxes are ahead of our budget plan with the exception of the Medicaid Enhancement Tax. This is often referred to as the "hospital tax" and some hospitals have not paid their tax for this fiscal year. Most payments, about 60 percent of MET, were made last fall on time. The estimated MET revenue that remains to be paid is $39.1 million. When paid it would put us in the black for the year by about $7 million.
It is a welcome tradition each May to participate in the Steppin’ Up to End Violence Walk and Fun Run in Claremont to support the work of Turning Points Network. Turning Points is the Sullivan County domestic violence agency.
With recent sad incidents reported on the front pages of our newspapers, the value of the work of Turning Points preventing violence, promoting respect, and caring for victims of domestic violence is obvious. Plus, walkers get to exercise and, in my case, pick up a few tidbits of local news from fellow walkers. Talking while walking for a good cause is good for the walker.
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