This is my last column for 2011. Since I wrote my first 2011 column, much has changed on the legislative, political and regional landscape. And I suggest there is plenty of change ahead for all of us in 2012.
The simple volume of legislation every year seems staggering. Where do all these bills come from; why are there so many issues that need a legislative fix and do we need dozens of bills from both political philosophical extremes to fix problems that seem invisible to most us trying to go about our daily lives?
As the Constitution demands, the House and Senate must convene on the first Wednesday of January after the first Tuesday so that the formal beginning of the 2012 session will begin Jan. 4. There are 154 bills carried over by the House from the 2011 session and the Senate has 57 carried over bills. All of those bills must be ready to be voted on within the first three meetings of the House or Senate.
That alone is a lot of work. But there are also 438 new bills introduced by House members and 191 new bills from Senators. Rounding up that means there are nearly 1,000 bills in play as 2012 begins after we dealt with hundreds of others during 2011.
There will be much attention focused on high profile legislation like the bill to repeal recently enacted provisions of New Hampshire law that provides for gay marriages. More gun rights related bills are moving through the legislative process. And bills to make voter identification rules tougher when people show up to vote will be divisive in both houses of the legislature.
Hearings on new bills will begin in January. Each chamber will have to vote on the bills that start in their body by mid-session which will likely be in late March depending upon rules that will be adopted during next yearís first legislative meeting.
Then it will be a dash to the end of the session in early June. There will be a flurry of activity as legislators balance the workload with a desire to adjourn on schedule and for many to hit the campaign trail in the summer.
So, no prediction required. The fact is that the legislature will be very busy next year.
2012 will be a political year, too. The presidential primary on Jan. 10 is only the beginning. For political activists, the presidential primary is an opportunity to engage in the every-four-year battle to select and then elect a party candidate for president.
A few of us find the sidelines a fine place to be during presidential primaries. After all, other than a one day story about oneís endorsement there is not much impact local officials can have, given the debates, direct mail, TV advertising and the source of constant complaints to me, computer-driven telephone calls.
While I like a couple of candidates, I prefer to focus on my work in Concord, constituent service and community issues, and I can think ahead to my own re-election campaign.
Politics will not stop with the Jan. 10 presidential primary. The debate and criticism of House redistricting plans, which has created controversy over both the process and the product, happens every 10 years. There will be more debate and criticism when potential Senate redistricting plans are brought forward at a public hearing on Jan. 11 Ö the day after the Presidential primary.
Candidates for governor will be making their announcements and getting their campaigns moving in the next couple of months. And all candidates for state offices and Congress will be signing up with the Secretary of State in early June to be ready for the September primaries. And then we will have our national and state elections on Nov. 6.
In summary, there will be plenty of political activity in 2012.
We live in a different world today. You have heard that before but consider that we have a state budget for the current two year period that is more than 10 percent smaller than the past budget and the first budget since World War II to be smaller in both years of the biennium than the prior two-year budget.
So, state spending is reduced. A new reduction of federal funds for New Hampshire trails, especially those used by snowmobilers and ATV riders, totals $667,000. Federal funds for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, has just been increased by $4.8 million providing an anticipated $26 million for this winterís heating season. The money goes to qualified residents to provide a heating oil benefit. The $26 million of federal money is down from the $34 million provided last year.
The state has reduced its spending and the federal government, bit by bit, is doing the same. Most of the federal money coming into New Hampshire is distributed by the state which underlines a future of smaller state appropriations. Government in 2012 will be smaller both in New Hampshire and nationally.
I look forward to sharing an exciting and good 2012 with readers in hope that our political discussions will be positive and polite and reflective of the importance of doing through politics what is in the best interests of the people of our region, our state and our nation. A tough task but I am sure we are up to it. Happy New Year!
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