I sent a note of apology for missing a committee meeting of the New Hampshire Humanities Council on Wednesday because our Senate session ran late. The executive director of the council and the spouse of a State Representative replied that no apologies were necessary given the "bruising" time the legislature was going through last week.
Thursday was the last day for either the House or Senate to act on bills this year. And that meant it was the final chance to take bills off the table, to amend bills to send to the chamber with policies already defeated there, and to pass bills that will require a committee of conference to sort out the differences between House and Senate positions.
For Senators in the majority, there was an all day caucus to see where the members wanted to go on each bill. Then, there was a long legislative day on Wednesday. Predictions that Thursday’s session would be short given that only a few bills remained to be dealt with evaporated as the hours passed by.
Recesses were called to wait for newly drafted amendments to arrive from the Office of Legislative Services. There were several recesses to let the majority and minority members caucus. And, Senators like others, need their lunch break.
By late afternoon, the end was in sight. Two Senators had already left for previously made commitments. And hanging over Senators was the 10th annual Rock ‘N Race, a 5-kilometer race and festival that benefits the Payson Cancer Care Center at Concord Hospital.
There were a couple of dozen portable toilets lined up on the street next to the State House early in the day and later the police starting closing off other streets.
An E-mail earlier in the day said that cars parked in the garage below the Executive Office Building, where most Senators park, would have to be out of there by 5:45 p.m. or else they would be stuck there for a couple more hours. No Senator wanted to get caught in the garage.
With that in mind, the Senate ended its session about 30 minutes before the garage was to close. The voting on bills for this two year session was over.
This week the House and Senate will act on these motions: to concur or agree on bills as amended from the other chamber sending these bills to the Governor for him to act upon; non concurrence on bills coming from the other chamber which kills these bills; and, non concurrence with a request for a committee of conference.
The latter action triggers a series of committees of conference meetings open to the public where the pulling and tugging over policies in bills will determine the future of the bills being considered. I will report on the action around the committees of conference process over the next two weeks.
However contentious or "bruising" things may seem to be in the State House when you see the evening news, our procedural rules and the determination of most legislators to be focused on doing a good job for constituents and the state still endures. Thankfully, our work is nearly done for 2012.
In the midst of the legislative scramble surrounding us, 10 Senators took time on Wednesday to slip across the street from the State House for a quiet lunch with the Chancellor of the Community College System and the presidents of the colleges. It was an appropriate time given that this is graduation season for community colleges, including River Valley Community College, which held graduation on Friday evening.
Some quick statistics: enrollment has nearly doubled over the last decade with the seven community colleges serving more than 27,000 students. And very importantly, 95 percent of the students are from New Hampshire. River Valley, with campuses in Claremont and Keene, has 2,200 students and is pioneering programs in such as areas as "cyber security specific to the healthcare industry" and "polysomnography (sleep disorders) within the respiratory therapy program."
Governor Lynch has been a great advocate for Running Start, a program offered in 80 public schools that allows students to earn college credits for classes taken while in high school. This gives students a "running start" when they go to college with some credits already earned reducing the courses left to complete college and reducing costs to families.
Financial aid is critically important to community college students. Through a variety of grants and programs, 68 percent of students receive financial aid, up from 55 percent three years ago.
New Hampshire’s community colleges are technologically savvy, too. They offer more than 700 online courses, up 48 percent in two years. There are now 9,860 students taking online courses.
The current budget reduced the annual appropriation from the state to the community college system. That has put pressure on administrators and college presidents to manage a growing student population while making changes to adapt to the needs of employers and new ways of delivering an education.
High school students graduating this year or in the future have a proven educational opportunity right in our own communities. Community colleges in New Hampshire and across the country have become a valuable higher educational option for current students and those who want to go to college as adult learners.