Senate President Peter Bragdon (Milford) brought the gavel down as 23 Senators voted last Wednesday to adjourn our Senate session to "the call of the chair."
With that the 2011-2012 Senate finished its final session and ended its regular work of introducing bills, holding public hearings, debating on the floor and voting on bills.
Hundreds of bills had their final votes in 2011 or earlier this year. But there were still 52 bills to get their last votes on Wednesday. These bills had survived the committees of conference process. Each Senator had a blue covered booklet with House bills amended by the Senate and a yellow booklet of Senate bills amended by the House. For each bill, there was a committee of conference report.
Votes were taken on these committees of conference reports. The only voting option was yea or nay. With one exception, there were no amendments allowed. The Senate was in a voting mood and ready to go.
There were three constitutional amendments before us including CACR 12, the education funding amendment. Amendments, for passage, require a 3/5 vote of Senate and House to be on the ballot on election day in November. The amendments all received the required votes in the Senate.
When two of the three saw action on the House floor, the education funding amendment was defeated not once but a second time when the House reconsidered its action. And an amendment that would have required a 3/5 vote of the House and Senate if taxes, fees or bonding were to be increased also failed.
The surviving amendment from Wednesday that will appear on the November ballot would prohibit any new tax on personal income. It will need a 2/3 vote from citizens voting in November to become part of the state’s constitution. Get ready for plenty of debate and campaigning on this one.
There were roll requests on 10 of the other reports. To have a roll call, it takes a request from one Senator and a second from another Senator. One roll call on some changes to the state’s renewal portfolio standards drew a 23 to zero tally. Some would say this was a good vote to show Senators in support of renewable energy incentives.
A division vote was requested on Senate Bill 409 which deals with the use of medical marijuana. Senators in favor stand as a group and counted; then, the Senators opposed stand and are counted.
The rest of the bills passed on a voice vote indicative that consensus had been built around issues involved. There were one or two nays heard from time to time. Essentially, the arguments, pro and con, had been heard earlier in the process and the votes for passage were in hand.
Senators will get one more time to do some voting. The Senate and House will return to the State House on June 27 to vote on vetoes by the Governor. For now, legislators get a couple of weeks off.
The votes noted above would suggest there are 23 members of the Senate. There are 24 seats but Senator Andy Sanborn resigned his seat the night before we met on Wednesday. He and his wife, Representative Laurie Sanborn, have been living in Henniker but as of last week became residents of Bedford. Once you no longer reside in your current Senate or legislative district, you must give up your seat.
They will be running for re-election in new districts. But, the Senate will have 23 members from now through the first Wednesday in December when the next legislature is sworn in.
The 87 words in the proposed constitutional amendment, CACR 12, drew the lengthiest debate on the Senate floor. Senator Jeb Bradley (Wolfeboro), Majority Leader, said we have been going through a "profound debate" balancing "principle with pragmatism" as he spoke in favor of the amendment. He said we need to strengthen the role of the legislature in distributing funds to communities and allow the state to target more aid to schools with the greatest needs. Senator Sylvia Larsen (Concord), Minority Leader, countered that the amendment would let the state "slip backward in support of education" impacting local property taxes.
I have been part of the education funding discussions for years. The debate goes back prior to the first "Claremont ruling" in 1997. Yet, we still have not reached a resolution. Even the current formula that is in place has a collar on it to keep the overall costs from increasing while making sure communities get no less money annually than they did in the prior biennium.
The issue is very complex and has a tremendous impact on the nearly $1 billion of annual state spending, monies available to local schools, impacts on local property taxes and ultimately the educational opportunities we can provide to students.
The new legislature next year will once again have to grapple with state support for local schools. And, next spring as school districts are working on budgets, they will probably have to wait a couple of months after they pass their budgets, until June probably, to know the exact amount they will receive from the state. That is not a good situation.