Submitted by Representative Carol McGuire.
This week, the House met on the first few Senate bills. We started the day by passing a proclamation congratulating Rustic Crust, of Pittsfield, for getting back into production so quickly after the fire destroyed their plant, and also for keeping the employees on the payroll while rebuilding. We also enjoyed the bagpipe ceremony of Tartan Day, celebrating our Scottish heritage (even if we’re not Scots.)
SB349 changes the Republican delegate districts – used to elect delegates to the state party convention– to be by town rather than by representative districts. This has good and bad points: Pittsfield and Epsom are guaranteed a delegate each, for example, but there’s no delegate from the floterial district, giving one delegate less from the three towns. It passed with no debate after a floor amendment fixed a technical flaw in the bill.
SB220, on the electrician’s board, passed with no debate and was sent to Ways & Means because of the new fee. SB261, allowing retirees as well as employees of the State Employees Association to remain in the state employees’ health plan, also passed without comment. SB405, requiring radon system installers to register with the board of home inspectors, was briefly debated – I spoke against, one person in favor, and passed 172-147. I opposed this bill because it was totally unnecessary: there was no evidence of problems with radon installer and no demand for registration, unlike every other profession we’ve ever considered regulating!
SB311, authorizing the director of Fish & Game to negotiate a reciprocity agreement with Vermont and/or Maine for snowmobiles, ATVs, and dirt bikes, passed on a voice vote and went on to Ways & Means. SB151, clarifying when the state will pay for lawyers on appeals, also passed without comment. Then we debated SB209, expanding the “good Samaritan” law to engineers and architects. This was opposed for several reasons: there’s no evidence that engineers who volunteer in emergencies have ever been sued; it would only apply to the 10% or so of engineers who are actually licensed; and it seems to play favorites because electricians, tree doctors, backhoe operators, and others who volunteer their services in emergencies are not included! So the bill failed to pass, 147-178, and was killed, 214-113.
SB295, prohibiting an employer from using credit history, was debated and passed, 192-142. I voted against because credit history can be very useful in learning about a candidate’s character, and many more jobs than the few exemptions in this bill have access to company or customer money. SB390, prohibiting discrimination against victims of domestic violence, was also debated and passed, 186-153, with both votes being largely on party lines. I opposed it because the law is almost unenforceable: being an “at will” state, employees in New Hampshire can be fired for any reason or no reason, so proving – or disproving – a charge of this discrimination would be almost impossible.
SB357, naming the Mt Washington overlook and the I93 northbound rest area in Hooksett after former Executive Counselor Ray Burton, passed on a voice vote after the usual short speech of praise. SB274, on the form of a candidate’s name on the ballot, passed with a clarifying amendment, so now names can have letters, a dash, apostrophe, comma, or period. Not sure why all those are needed, but at least they’ll be easy to print, and people going by their initials can have periods now.
SB400, increasing the penalty for unlawful taking of eels (apparently a problem near the seacoast),passed without discussion and went to Criminal Justice to evaluate the penalty. SB260, permitting electronic signatures on criminal complaints, was briefly debated because it seemed to have deleted the officer’s oath that the complaint was truthful, and passed, 284-51.
My committee met to recommend seven more bills. SB186, requiring training in corporate governance for directors of non-profits that receive more than $250,000 in public funds, was debated extensively. I am a cosponsor of this bill, because I believe that since we have chosen to hand over so much state money, and so many tasks that are, arguably at least, state responsibilities, to nonprofit organizations, we have a duty to ensure that they spend it wisely and appropriately. Since nonprofits are not subject to the right to know laws, we have to trust them to do it right – and having the boards aware of their responsibility is the least of it. The opposition was scattered; first, they tried to say there is only one non-profit (Tri-County Community Action Program, in the north country) that had governance problems; then, that many non-profits had well-qualified board members and/or extensive board training programs, so the bill was too broad; and finally that the training required was insignificant and too little to prevent future problems! I and others tried to express that this was a first step, not a final solution, but couldn’t get through to them. I and another representative had, independently, produced amendments that specified organizations with board training could use that to exempt themselves from the training requirement, but that wasn’t enough either. We finally voted to send it to interim study, where the debate will continue!
SB222, restructuring the department of administrative services and adding a deputy commissioner to the department of information technology, was recommended to pass, unanimously and with agreement that we’re glad it’s going to the Finance committee for another look at the funding requirements. SB315, establishing a board of building officials, went unanimously to interim study because the structure in the bill presents major problems to smaller towns and it’s not at all clear how to fix it. I – and many on the committee – don’t think the licensing is actually necessary, so I won’t be working very hard on this bill!
SB264, requiring judges to declare by September which retirement plan they will collect benefits from, was amended to make it clear that the decision was irrevocable and passed unanimously. This is important because the recent lawsuit on the judicial retirement plan gave about half the judges vested rights in one of the previous pension plans –and when the ones who sued were ordered to decide, only half of them chose the old plan over the new one! It’s a complex choice, depending on how long they plan to serve, expected retirement age (judges constitutionally must retire at 70, and the old plan doesn’t allow retirement before age 65), life expectancy, and whether or not a future legislature might give active judges a pay increase (the old plans pay 75% of a sitting judge’s pay.)
SB395, making the director of forests and lands eligible for Group II (police/fire) retirement status, was also debated at length. The Republicans all agreed that a management position, even if it involved supervising some fire fighters, was not appropriate for Group II, and that adding more positions to this richer retirement benefit was not a good idea. (group II positions are not covered by social security, allow earlier retirement and pay a larger pension than Group I.) The Democrats want to give more government largess to more people, and since we have two firefighters on the committee, they were convinced that nobody who has Group II should ever have to give it up, even if they are appointed commissioner! So we failed to kill the bill, 7-10, and recommended its passage, 10-7, on purely party lines.
SB385, on the qualifying exam for chiropractors, was recessed again to allow a public hearing on a non-germane amendment to fix a problem with the qualifying exam for reflexologists! SB399, on ethics in contracting, was suddenly objected to by the attorney general’s office, so it was also recessed so that we could study the objections.