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.
The New Hampshire Legislature is entering the home stretch.
The regular business is over. Bills cannot be introduced, public hearings are finished and votes on the hundreds of bills that came before us have been cast. All that remains are bills with differences between the House and Senate versions that will face Committees of Conference to resolve those differences. Deadline for the committees to finish their work is 12:00 noon on June 18. The committees of conference process is used by the Congress and forty-nine of our states where there are two legislative bodies, a Senate and a House of Representatives or equivalent. Only Nebraska has a single legislative chamber, a Senate with twenty-five members.
The Speaker appoints her conferees to represent the House position on a bill. The Senate President does likewise on the Senate’s behalf. For most bills, the House has four conferees and the Senate three. The committees meet and discuss the issues and try to reach a consensus as a bill must get a unanimous vote or “sign off” from committee members. The alternative is let a bill die because one or more members will not sign off on a committee report. Months of work on a bill can be lost for lack of every committee member signing off.
There is, of course, another route which we are likely to see over the next
10 days. The speaker and president have the power to remove a committee member and replace them with a more compliant member. This happened recently and caused a bit of a stir. HB 73 was amended and passed by the House and Senate using different language. The bill had an amendment Governor Lynch requested to affirm religious freedom protections with regard to same sex marriage. Without the amendment, the Governor felt he could not sign the same sex marriage bill.
The Senate President appointed Senator Shelia Roberge (Bedford) to the committee but, as an opponent of the same sex marriage legislation, she would not go along with the bill. The Senate President pulled Senator Roberge and appointed another Senator supportive of the bill. Each House and Senate conferee, with Senator Roberge out of the way, signed off on the committee of conference report. That report was passed last Wednesday by the House and Senate and Governor Lynch signed the same sex marriage bill a few hours later. The appointment and replacement of members of committees of conference puts real power in the closing days of the legislature in the hands of the House Speaker and Senate President.
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Most of the attention this week will be focused on the committees of conference on HB 2 that is identified as “relative to state fees, funds, revenues, and expenditures.” Sounds simple but in reality it is the $11.5 billion budget bill. Given the scale of the task ahead, the committee membership has been expanded to five from each body with alternates. We begin our first session at 9:00 a.m. today.
House and Senate versions of the budget have different tax increases and even new taxes along with many fee increases. And of course, the House and Senate have different views on the introduction of slot machine gambling with the House long opposed. A motion to strip out the provision to allow the introduction of slot machines lost on an 8 to 16 roll call vote in the Senate last week. That is just one of the issues separating the House and Senate and there are many hours of back and forth ahead, in the committee room and in back rooms, as members try to reconcile differences. It is an easy prediction to suggest there will be some legislative fireworks and surprises over the next
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As the legislative session chugs along to its end of the month finish, legislators will miss the happy and excited voices of visiting school children. They come in small and large groups to see the State House with stops at the Hall of Flags, the House and Senate chambers and the Executive Council room. Often, the highlight of the tour is to meet for a few minutes with Governor Lynch.
A section of the weekly Senate calendar is titled: State House Visitation Schedule. That gives Senators an opportunity to plan to meet with the students from their district in the Senate chamber. Last week, a dozen or so third and fourth grade students from Acworth Center School visited the State House. They were greeted in the Hall of Flags by their State Representatives, Jim McClammer and Cynthia Sweeney, both of Charlestown. And then I had a chance to be with the students when they stopped by the Senate Chamber. One student, Emma Gendron, was a newly born baby when I stopped by her family’s South Acworth home in my first campaign. Last Tuesday, she was sitting in a Senate seat as if ready to cast her vote on a key issue.
Students from Disnard School in Claremont will be the final district 8 school group to visit the State House. They will be at the State House on Friday. Then, the schools will be closing for the summer. And a couple of weeks later, the legislature will finish up its work. Both students and legislators will enjoy their well deserved summer break.
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951