Senator Odell is Chairman of
the Ways and
Means Committee, and
member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development
Committee; Finance Committee; Citizens Trade Policy
Commission; State Park System Advisory Council; and Comprehensive Cancer Plan Oversight
District 8 towns: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont,
Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury,
Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity,
Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.
Every Thursday night when the legislature is in session, the Senate Clerk’s office sends off to a printer the text for the weekly Senate Calendar. The calendar contains the schedule of public hearings and meetings, visits of school children and others to the State House, a listing of deadlines for legislative action and. most importantly, a listing of all the bills and amendments up for debate and votes at the next Senate session.
Senators use the calendar as a guide to their activities for the week. Two meetings, however, not listed are the caucuses. These are the private meetings of Democrat senators, the majority in the senate, and Republican Senators, the senate’s minority. There are 14 Democrats and 10 Republicans. And while most of the business of the Senate is handled in a routine, non-partisan manner, there are issues that clearly divide the body along partisan lines.
The caucuses (I have been part of the majority caucus and am now part of the minority
caucus) serve an extraordinarily significant role in the Senate legislative process. Last week was a good example as the 24 senators faced over 90 bills on the agenda for our session day on Wednesday. Several of the bills were controversial while others could be considered routine. But even routine bills have advocates starting with the legislator who introduced the bill along with any co-sponsor. Many bills have active opponents, too.
In my caucus, led by the Senate’s minority leader, we go over every bill usually in the order they are listed in the calendar.
Every Senator has a blue binder holding a copy of each bill and any amendments to it, the bill’s docket (the history of the bill), and a report on the committee hearing (who spoke in favor or against, salient points made by each witness, and the recommendation of the committee). The
Senators who are on the committee that heard the bill are called upon to report on what took place in the committee meetings and their sense of any controversy surrounding the proposed legislation. Some bills need no discussion as they have high visibility; others need some explanation.
During caucus meetings, senators are free to ask questions and discuss the implications of the bills to their district, stakeholders or the state. They can then decide whether or not to take a party position on a bill. Importantly, senators can assess bills in confidence with their party colleagues. With a few exceptions, senators of both parties are pretty good at keeping the confidences of their colleagues. The value of the caucuses is that Senators come out of their meetings better prepared and more knowledgeable about the legislation they will be voting on.
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The first bill on the floor last week demonstrated the lack of partisanship on a key bill. The bill (HB 391) would transfer a short portion of highway on the seacoast to the turnpike bureau so that it could be part of the I-95 Interstate/turnpike system. The bill also included increasing state turnpike bonding capacity as well authorizing installation of open road tolling. Open road tolling allows vehicles to pass through toll areas without slowing down by having their E-Z passes read from monitors above the road. This would reduce long waits at toll booths and reduce pollution. A bipartisan majority of senators approved the bill on an 18-6 vote.
* * *
When it comes to protesting Bank of America’s policy of charging $6 for employees of companies with accounts at the bank to cash
their pay checks, the Senate divides along party lines. Bank of America is a federally charted bank. That means action by the New Hampshire legislature cannot impact the bank directly but hopefully sends a message to Congress that it should take action. Some feel this is especially important as Bank of America is a beneficiary of federal bail out money. That is the Republican approach.
On the other side, the Democrat majority feels a letter from the Senate to our federal legislators should do the job. Everyone agrees it is ridiculous for Bank of America to take $6 out of someone’s paycheck simply to cash it when the employer has an account at the bank. It was suggested during the Senate debate that Bank of America was the only bank with such a policy. In the end, along party lines, the vote was 14-10 against an amendment (on HB 610) to stop Bank of America’s current practice.
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And then there are those unanimous votes. How about a 24-0 vote on a bill (HB 529) to make sure children in the Healthy Kids program do not lose their insurance when they move from one category of coverage to another category? Without the legislation, there is the potential for a child to be uninsured for a couple of weeks during a transition for one coverage category to another. Every senator voted to protect the children at a projected annual cost of about $100,000.
* * *
We started our day last Wednesday with more than 90 bills on the calendar. After eight hours of debate and voting, the Senate President called a halt and special ordered about
20 bills remaining to our session this Wednesday. Senators of both parties will be in caucuses before session to prepare themselves for votes. The caucuses help insure an orderly process on the Senate floor.
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951