The bills ran the gamut from a "ridiculous" one to the cornerstone bill of this session addressing our huge and increasing budget deficit.
The Senate adopted rules earlier this year that required us to take action on all bills by May 12. When leadership noticed that the House rules called for them to have a similar deadline but a day later, we changed our rules so that we could add an extra day to deal with legislation.
Never has the old adage about filling the available time been more appropriate. We were in session on our original final day until 8:30 p.m. The next day, our new day, we went until 12:30 a.m.
Of course, over the two days, we took a couple of dozen recesses for caucuses to sort out each party’s take on different bills and parliamentary motions.
One political action committee for one party’s Senators had a fund-raiser scheduled and that required a three hour break. One Senator had a long-planned family photo event so he drove home and had the photo, but missed a family dinner to return for the late night session. I missed a dinner at the New London Inn to benefit the Ausbon Sargent Land Trust.
We started out on the first day with a gallery full of citizens interested in particular issues along with our normal cadre of lobbyists all sporting their orange badges indicating their profession. At the end, it was only a small group of lobbyists left to watch the last hours before we finished our work.
For the next three weeks, the focus will be on committees of conferences that will meet to iron out differences between House and Senate positions on a long list of bills. Committees of conference will vote on reports which will then be voted on by the House and Senate. Both have to agree to accept the reports in order for the underlying bills to go to the Governor for signature. Either body can kill a bill.
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It was Senator Jack Barnes (Raymond) who named the "ridiculous" bill. The bill (HB 1417) would allow restaurant owners, or more specifically a bed and breakfast owner who happens to be a member of the House of Representatives and sponsor of the bill, to allow their pet dogs … called companion dogs in the legislation … to be in their food establishments when customers are being served.
Senator Barnes, who owned five McDonald’s at one time, graphically highlighted health care issues and sanitary concerns as he wound up and laid the "ridiculous" title on a bill deserving of that identification. Believe it or not, the bill still passed with an amendment that if a patron had a service dog, then the pet dog might have to leave the restaurant area.
A senator leaned over to me and said "this is a new low for this session." And we wonder why folks question how serious we are about the big issues that affect the daily lives of our constituents.
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There was, in fact, time for the major issue which is balancing the budget.
On the same day that the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to reject the House’s work on a $181 million proposal (SB 450) to close the budget gap, the Senate majority came forward with a plan (HB 1128) to close a newly projected $284 million budget gap that involves expanded gambling and the sale of state property.
Much of the new budget balancing plan contains cost cutting, and anticipation of additional money from Washington ideas that were in the Governor’s recommendations as well as in the House proposal.
One new element that counts on fees from two casino licenses for $80 million struck some as very unrealistic. The introduction of slot machines in some states, Maryland for example, have taken years and not months to put in place. It is speculative, at best, to expect money from slots parlors or casinos by June 30, 2011 when the biennium ends.
The day before the Senate voted on its budget package, the House soundly defeated, for a second time in two years, another gambling bill. A majority of the Senate is comfortable with more gambling in the state; it is the exact opposite in the House.
The sale of state assets, too, sounds a little optimistic. The idea is for a committee to meet and present ideas on properties the state should sell to raise $50 million between October 1 and the end of the biennium.
Senator David Boutin (Hooksett) pointed out that in the current budget there is $25 million to be generated by leasing the rest stops on Route 93 in Hooksett. According to Senator Boutin, only one response was received to the state request for proposals and that one was rejected. The idea of selling off $50 million in assets over a few months doesn’t seem likely, and any asset sale proposed will find one or more legislators who have reasons to believe the asset is too valuable to be sold.
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If you were wondering, House Bill 1206 passed, making cider the New Hampshire state beverage. Cider beat out milk because milk is the official beverage of too many other states. The bill was a project of fourth graders in Jaffrey.
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