The vacancy was created when long time commissioner, Pat Russell from Keene, stepped down. There were many applicants for the post including other good candidates from the 8th District. The Governor took his time and met personally with several prospects but Joe quickly moved to the top of his list. Next step, the Executive Council will vote on Joe’s nomination after a January confirmation hearing.
Joe has been a customer of the state’s liquor stores as he has successfully owned a number of restaurants in New Hampshire. He is the current owner of One Mile West Restaurant on Route 103 in Sunapee. Joe’s years of experience make him well-prepared to be an effective commissioner.
I believe one of John Lynch’s legacies of his time as Governor will be the many outstanding appointments he has made. With Joe Mollica, he’s done it again. Heartfelt congratulations to Joe.
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Last week, at 4:00 p.m. on Dec. 8, the Senate closed the window on the drafting of new bills for the 2010 session of the legislature that gets underway next month.
Every year I am surprised by the number of bills introduced. The 400 House members had 696 bills drafted and closed their window for bill introductions weeks ago. The 24 Senate members introduced 243 bills giving us a total of 939 new bills for consideration. But we also have to add in 123 House bills and 32 Senate bills that were re-referred from the January – June session earlier this year.
Re-referred bills are pieces of legislation the House and/or Senate considered but felt more work was needed. The re-referred bills have been available for committee work the last six months. Rules call for the House or Senate to vote on them during the first three legislative sessions next year.
Who puts drafts these bills and puts the legislative packages together? It is the team of eight drafting attorneys and support staff in the Office of Legislative Services (OLS). During prescribed periods each year, any legislator can go the OLS front desk, describe to the staff the subject matter of the bill he or she is thinking about introducing and will be directed to the drafting attorney who is handling that subject area for this session. The legislator describes to the attorney what they want to accomplish and may even have some suggested language.
With that information, the attorney drafts a bill. The sponsor gets to review it, suggest changes and add co-sponsors from the House and Senate. With the changes made, the bill is circulated to the sponsor and co-sponsors who “sign off” on the bill. That starts the bill down the road to a public hearing before a standing committee, amendments, and floor votes leading up to the Governor singing the bill into law. That’s what will happen to all those bills House and Senate members have come up with in the last few weeks.
The director of the Office of Legislative Services is Carol Holahan, a State House veteran who started there in 1998. In addition to the drafting attorneys, she also directs four professional researchers and ten support staff members. Three things, I believe, keep the bill drafting process working smoothly. There are rules that must be followed. So, you need to sign off before the deadlines, you cannot ask for a bill to be drafted before the rules allow drafting or withdraw a bill after the deadline. If you no longer want to pursue your legislative goal, you have to go to the public hearing and ask your colleagues to vote against your own bill.
Secondly, the drafting attorneys are extremely helpful as they use their accumulated experience to guide legislators to make sure the language meets the needs of the bill sponsor. Their advice saves time, avoids duplication and from time to time, possible embarrassment for a bill’s sponsor.
Third, they are impartial and bi-partisan. Each attorney has a unique way of accepting a legislator’s idea and is obligated to draft any bill requested. Their neutrality on the issues involved is critical to the process.
Carol Holahan says “Our goal is to work closely with senators and representatives to produce a quality product that accurately reflects the policy goals of bill sponsors. With a large legislature (424 members), a short drafting period (usually about 6 weeks), many bill requests (about 1,000 per session) and a small drafting staff, it is a challenging task. I am fortunate to have an extremely experienced and talented staff.”
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I recently sat in for an hour and half briefing by Nick Toumpas, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. It was a very stark report from the man who runs the state’s largest department and spends 30% of the budget. He is running a $36 million deficit even after not filling staff vacancies, layoffs and other reductions. One factor driving up costs is the increasing number of people qualifying for services that was not anticipated when the budget was put together in the spring. There will be much more to report on this critical situation down the road.
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