State Senator Dan Feltes Announces He is Running For Governor

Dan Feltes (D – Concord), Senate Majority Leader, announced his campaign for governor on Tuesday, Sept. 3rd. He is the first Democrat to enter the race. A former legal aid lawyer, Dan is currently serving his third term in the State Senate. Senator Feltes released a four-minute video announcing his candidacy during which he said, “I’m running for governor for the working families of New Hampshire, for people like my parents, the people I represented, people who tried hard and worked hard and never asked for a damn thing.” (Click here to see the full video.)

Governor’s Veto of Bill to Restrict Possession of Firearms on School Property to Be Taken Up by House in September

Last month, Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed three gun safety bills, one of which (HB 564) would have prohibited unauthorized guns in our schools and on school grounds. Exceptions were made for law enforcement personnel, any person picking up or dropping off students provided the gun(s) remained in the vehicle, and any person authorized by a school board – or its designee – to possess a firearm on school property.

In vetoing the legislation, Sununu wrote that the three gun safety measures he vetoed (HB564, HB109 and 514) would not “prevent evil individuals from doing harm.”

Of course a person really intent on doing harm would ignore warnings to keep guns off school property, but maybe – just maybe – HB 564 would keep people from doing something really stupid or dangerous.

In 2017 and 2012, NH legislators dropped loaded guns, which they were legally carrying, during public hearings in the Statehouse. Could that happen in our schools? Of course it could.

Just recently, a man was accused of walking into a Walmart in Missouri equipped with body armor, a handgun, and a rifle less than a week after a gunman killed 22 people in a Texas Walmart. He reportedly told his sister it was “a social experiment on how his Second Amendment right would be respected in a public area.”

How are school officials supposed to react if they see a man equipped with body armor, a handgun, and a rifle approach the school building? Do they have to wait until the individual crosses the “no visitors beyond this point” line before calling for assistance — because of Second Amendment “rights”?

This Missouri resident now faces a charge of making a terrorist threat in the second degree. The prosecuting attorney stated, “Missouri protects the right to open carry a firearm, but that right does not allow an individual to act in a reckless and criminal manner, endangering other citizens.” He continued, “As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously explained, ‘The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man…falsely shouting fire in a theater, causing a panic.’”

In a press release issued last month, House Majority Leader Douglas Ley said, in part, “It is alarming to realize that in the most developed nation on earth, our kids are afraid to go to school. Quite frankly, they have good reason to be….In the first 8 months of 2019 alone, there have been 57 recorded instances of gunfire on schools grounds. As the levels of gun violence in our schools grow to unprecedented levels each year, our leaders continue to send their thoughts and prayers and nothing else. Our children, teachers, and parents become more and more traumatized with fear that their classroom could be next.”

House Bills 109 and 514would have required background checks for commercial firearms sales and imposed a waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a firearm, respectively.

Advice to Gov. Sununu: An Independent Redistricting Commission Would Be Good for NH

HB 706 would establish an independent redistricting commission and is intended to reduce or eliminate the contentious and partisan atmosphere that has surrounded previous, post-census redistricting efforts. The bill is now before the Governor for his approval or veto.

I served on the Election Law Subcommittee that worked on HB 706 and was pleased that our efforts received support from the Committee and was recommended as Ought to Pass with Amendment on a bipartisan, 20 – 0 Committee vote.  Although most House Republicans voted against the bill, it passed by a margin of 218 – 123. The bill then went to the Senate where it came out of committee with a bipartisan, 5 – 0 vote recommending Ought to Pass with further amendment, and passed the Senate by a voice vote. The House concurred with the Senate amendment by a vote of 208 – 137.

The following Opinion piece in support of HB 706 appeared in the NH Union Leader (July 25, 2019) and was submitted by Bradford Cook, a Manchester attorney, a Republican and chair of the New Hampshire Ballot Law Commission, and John T. Broderick Jr., a former N.H. Supreme Court justice and former executive director of the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Policy. It is an effective explanation, as the article’s headline stated, as to “Why HB 706 is good for New Hampshire”:

“That’s all we’re asking for: an end to the antidemocratic and un-American practice of gerrymandering congressional districts . . . The fact is, gerrymandering has become a national scandal.” — President Ronald Reagan

‘GERRYMANDERING’ wasn’t a word most voters knew much about a year ago. But Ronald Reagan was right — it has been a scandal for years, and it has been getting progressively worse. Extreme cases of voting district manipulation by both parties in congressional districts in North Carolina, Maryland, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania brought it to the public’s attention, culminating in a Supreme Court case last month.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear egregious cases of gerrymandering by Democrats in Maryland and Republicans in North Carolina, instead suggesting that legislation by the states should be one of the paths to fixing this widespread problem.

While New Hampshire is not as extreme as those cases, and is lucky in having two congressional districts which have been “swing districts” for years, it is not immune from partisan efforts to manipulate the voting districts to the advantage of the party in power. We have, after all, 24 state senate districts, 400 legislators, and five executive councilors in addition to our members of Congress.

The New Hampshire Constitution empowers the legislature to redistrict, but the last effort in 2010 was so contentious and partisan that it took two years and a New Hampshire Supreme Court decision to settle. And still the districts were awkward at best, and unfairly drawn at worst.

Executive Council District 2, bordering three states, is the most commonly cited example, stretching from Hinsdale, in extreme southwest New Hampshire, to Portsmouth in the east. It has been cited as an example of “packing” a district so that other districts would be more reliable for one party. How was this map created? We have no idea, because the process was secret from the voters and from the Secretary of State — all perfectly legal by current New Hampshire statute.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the New Hampshire legislature had already crafted three bills this term addressing gerrymandering and fair redistricting, responding to demands by the voters. The HB 706 nonpartisan redistricting commission bill not only survived, but passed by significant bipartisan margins in its House and Senate committees and in full sessions.

The commission would be comprised of 15 commissioners: Five Republicans, five Democrats, and five independents and minority party members. The commission is empaneled similar to a jury, with the major parties able to object to each other’s nominees. The commission must conduct its business in public, and must hold at least one public hearing in each county prior to and after proposed maps are drawn. And after public scrutiny, the maps are submitted to the legislature to execute its constitutional obligation.

The New Hampshire way: Bipartisan, fair and above board.

As a practical political matter, with the swings in control of the legislature in recent years, each party should recognize the protection such a process has for it against a partisan effort by the legislature, if controlled by the other party.

Governor Sununu, we ask that you sign HB 706.

It would be good for Republicans, good for Democrats, level the playing field, and make New Hampshire a shining example to other states on how to improve the political process and faith in it.”

There is some common ground (on NH’s state budget), but it’s all on hold until a compromise is reached

The following policy piece appeared in the July 19 – August 1, 2019 edition of the New Hampshire Business Review and was written by Anna Brown, director of research and analysis for Citizens Count, a nonpartisan civic engagement nonprofit (CitizensCount.org):

“It’s true that zero Republicans voted for the budget recently vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu, but there’s more common ground than you may think.  While Democratic legislators and the governor disagree on business tax rates, school funding, and how to spend surplus money, here are some of the priorities they agree on.

Mental health funding.  The Legislature and the governor both want to increase funding for mental health services in the state.  For example, both their budgets included funding for 40 more transitional housing ends for mental health patients and a new treatment facility for children.  Legislators and the governor also agree on funding a new secure psychiatric unit, although the Legislature scaled down the size of the proposal.  This would end New Hampshire’s practice of housing potentially dangerous mental health patients in the state prison.

Developmentally disabled waitlist.  In his budget address, Governor Sununu got a big round of applause when he said his budget eliminated the outlets for developmental disability services.  The Legislature’s budget also planned to eliminate the waitlist.

Recreation and tourism.  The Legislature and the governor both want to increase funding for the Division of Travel and Tourism, for everything from rest areas to marketing.  Both budgets also increased how much the Fish and Game department would et from the general fund of all tax dollars.  For many years that department has had to rely heavily on income from hunting licenses, boating licenses, and other fees, and has struggled to pay its bills.

Public safety.  Although there was some debate over whether the state will be able to find people to fill the positions, the governor and Legislature want to fund more child protection service workers.  Both budgets also increased funding for the Cold Case Unit, including a new attorney in the Department of Justice to work on cold cases.  The New Hampshire Department of Justice website lists 129 unsolved death and missing person cases.

E-cigarettes.  The governor and Legislature both want to tax e-cigarettes the same as traditional tobacco products.  Using Pennsylvania’s tax as a model, the Department of Revenue Administration estimates the change will generate about $7 million a year for the state.

Association health plans.  The federal government recently changed regulations to allow businesses to join together through trade and professional associations to purchase health insurance.  The governor and Legislature both included language in their budgets to regulate these ‘association health plans.’

What’s next for these priorities?  Even though everyone agrees on the priorities listed above, they’re tied to the rest of the state budget, which means they’re on hold until the Legislature and governor forge a budget compromise.  If negotiations go well this summer, expect to see these priorities become law in October.”

 

Seacoastonline Editorial: Governor’s Budget Veto Will Prove a Mistake

Seacoastonline.com Editorial (June 29, 2019)

“In 2011, the Republican House and Senate presented Democratic Gov. John Lynch with a budget he strongly opposed, but he allowed it to become law without his signature.

‘In considering whether to veto the budget bills or allow them to become law, I have two major considerations: Could a veto result in a better budget for the people of New Hampshire, and what are the potential consequences of a veto for our people,’ Lynch explained.

Lynch quickly realized vetoing the budget would do more damage than good and he did what was right for the people of New Hampshire and let it become law.

This is the path Gov. Chris Sununu should have taken after he received the $13.3 billion two-year operating budget approved Thursday by the Democratic-controlled House and Senate. Instead, late Friday afternoon he vetoed it.

In our view, vetoing the budget will not result in any improvements. In fact, a veto reopens the entire process and could result in Democrats reintroducing their top priorities of paid family medical leave and modifying the capital gains tax, which they removed after Sununu said he would veto the budget if those two items were included.

Far more important, we believe delaying implementation of the many excellent measures contained in this budget, which Sununu agrees with almost entirely, hurts all the people of New Hampshire; its most vulnerable citizens struggling with physical and mental health challenges, families in crisis, property taxpayers begging for some relief, school districts starved of resources, even the very businesses Sununu said he is trying to help.

Sununu said he vetoed the budget because it does not authorize a third reduction in four years of business profits and business enterprise taxes. The state has already implemented two rounds of business tax cuts, which have resulted in New Hampshire having the lowest business tax rates in New England.

Democratic budget writers believed if they compromised on their two top priorities, family medical leave and the capital gains tax modifications, Sununu would compromise and agree to freeze the third round of business tax cuts. But he dug in on the business tax cuts, despite the budget’s many other benefits to the state’s businesses.

While businesses are happy to receive tax cuts, many told a commission studying business taxes in 2014 that their priorities when considering whether to expand or relocate are energy costs, an educated workforce, transportation and the overall cost of doing business.

Businesses also asked for, and received, reforms in this budget that put the state tax code in conformity with the federal code and prevent double taxation on services performed in New Hampshire for out-of-state clients. These tax reforms will also be delayed because of Sununu’s veto.

In recent decades, budget vetoes have not worked out well for New Hampshire governors.

In 2015, we were critical of Gov. Maggie Hassan when she vetoed the budget presented to her by a Republican-controlled Legislature for the same sorts of thin, partisan reasoning Sununu used to justify his veto. Then, as now, we wrote: ‘New Hampshire would have been better served had the governor let the budget become law without her signature…’

Hassan vetoed the budget, delaying funding for vital services such as opioid addiction treatment and recovery. In the end, the business taxes she cited to justify her veto remained in the budget and Hassan’s credibility was badly damaged.

If Sununu wants more evidence that vetoing reasonable budgets hurts governors, he can look to a Republican predecessor, Gov. Craig Benson, who made a big show of vetoing the budget created by his fellow Republicans in June 2003, going so far as to create a giant veto stamp and holding a press conference to crow about it.

‘A mere two months later Benson cut and ran, by signing into law a budget that contained even higher spending than the budget he had vetoed,’ wrote the New Hampshire Business Review.

Benson was also the first governor since 1926 not to be re-elected to a second term.

Our bipartisan editorial board has twice endorsed Sununu and we believe he truly wants what’s best for the state, which is why we cannot understand his veto. His veto message is a generic political statement that sheds no light.

We urge the governor to work in good faith with the Legislature to end this budget impasse as quickly as possible. That course of action is not just good politics, it’s what’s best for the people of New Hampshire.

 

House Election Law Chair Calls Secretary of State Election Training Procedures Into Question After Embarrassing Voter Assistance Inquiry

During the November 2018 State General Election, a Charlestown mother assisted her disabled son at the polls. NH RSA 659:20, Assistance in Voting, is quite clear that “a person of the voter’s choice” may assist a voter who needs assistance in marking the ballot.   19-year-old Justin Milliken is a registered voter in the town of Charleston; he has cerebral palsy and a seizure condition and cannot fill out a paper ballot on his own. A Charlestown Supervisor of the Checklist subsequently filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office questioning whether Justin could effectively communicate his choice in candidates.

Earlier this month, the Attorney General’s office cleared Justin’s mother, Dee, of any wrongdoing in assisting her disabled son at the polls, dismissing any suggestion she had committed voter fraud, and chastised Nancy Houghton, the Supervisor of the Checklist who had filed the complaint by pointing out “…that the Supervisors of the Checklist have no responsibility with respect to the voter assistance oath…” and warned that in the future, “…if any Charlestown election official has any questions regarding…allowing a registered voter to vote, they should always call either the Attorney General’s Office or the Secretary of State’s office to discuss the situation before…denying a voter the right to vote.”

On June 14th, Rep. David Cote of Nashua, Chair of the House Election Law Committee, issued a press release urging the Secretary of State’s office “to review current training procedures for local elections to ensure that such an embarrassment does not recur anywhere in the State of New Hampshire ever again.” He continued, “I am troubled by recent reports in the wake of these events, that Mr. Milliken may be discouraged in the future exercise of his right to vote. I would urge him not to allow the exceptionally poor judgment shown on this occasion to affect in any way his enthusiasm for exercising this precious and vital constitutional right.”

In a statement released by the NH Disability Rights Center, the Center also voiced concern about the “problematic lack of training for Charlestown poll workers and election officials around voters who require assistance in voting, and accessible voting generally.”

Is Secretary of State Bill Gardner Trying to Influence the Legislature More This Year than in the Past?

The NH Business Review recently observed that Secretary of State Bill Gardner seems to be involving himself in legislative deliberations this session, more than in the past (June 7 – 20, 2019 issue).  Here’s what the publication had to say relative to HB 651:

“Is it only in the imagination, or does it seem that SOS Billy Gardner is putting in his 2 cents a lot more the last couple years?

The most recent one came when the SOS carped about a bill that would allow campaign contributions to be spent on child-care costs.  The goal, say backers, is to make it easier for young parents to run for office.  But the main point is that it’s also something that the Federal Election Commission has already endorsed for federal campaigns.

Apparently that’s not enough for the SOS, who opposed the NH bill on the grounds that it would be unfair to donors.

Starts to make you wonder if he’s just a grudge against young people.

Nah, couldn’t be.”

On Thursday, June 13, the House concurred with the Senate’s amendment to HB 651 and the bill is headed to the Governor.

As a member of the House Election Law Committee, I can attest that the Secretary of State or the Deputy Secretary of State attended almost every public hearing of our committee during the 2019 session.  Often, their testimony began: “We are not taking a position on this bill, but…” and the office would then bash elements in the proposed legislation without making recommendations on how to fix any “weaknesses” they perceived in the bills.  On one occasion, a subcommittee had spent considerable time working on an amendment to HB 408, relative to the postponement of town meetings and local elections (due to inclement weather), and the Secretary of State walked into a subcommittee meeting 10 minutes prior to its deadline to report and said the bill wouldn’t work because some towns sometimes have concurrent state elections to fill vacancies in a state office and town moderators did not have the right to postpone state elections.  He had had multiple opportunities to raise this concern during the public hearing on this bill and during an earlier subcommittee work session, but did not do so.  As a result of this last-minute objection, the House Election Law Committee had little choice but to ask the committee to retain HB 408.  Fortunately, a similar bill had been introduced in the Senate (SB 104).  The Senators took the work of the House Election Law Committee, addressed the Secretary of State’s point, and passed SB 104.  The House concurred with that bill.

Yes, Secretary Gardner has been very active in trying to influence legislative policy in public and behind the scenes during the current legislative session.  Guidance, advice, and interpretation of proposed legislation from the Secretary of State is appropriate and welcome.  However, the development of legislative priorities, procedures and policies is the purview of the General Court — the House and Senate — not the Secretary of State.

Anniversaries

From June 2 through June 8, the NH Legislature celebrated the 200th anniversary of the construction of the NH State House, which began in 1816 and was completed in 1819. The first session of the General Court in this building also occurred in 1819. The NH State House Bicentennial Commission held a series of events and programs to commemorate the building’s anniversary including re-enactments, a Cultural Heritage and Arts Day on the Plaza, tours, and special programs.

But this week also marked several other anniversaries which members of the House commemorated during remarks on the floor. This week marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy landing operations during World War II, which occurred on June 6, 1944.  It was the largest seaborne invasion in history.  Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English channel that day. Allied casualties on the first day were estimated to be at 10,000. The operation laid the foundation for the Allied victory on the Western front.

77 years ago – from June 4 – 7, 1942 – the United States Navy defeated an attacking fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway, inflicting devastating and irreparable damage on the Japanese fleet. The Battle of Midway, which occurred just six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, is widely considered a turning point in the Pacific War.

And 100 years ago – on June 4, 1919 – Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which would grant all American women the right to vote. Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, and eight days later the Secretary of State ratified passage of the 19th Amendment.

NH’s program to recognize the bicentennial of its State House building was a wonderful experience, but I was very pleased that members of the House took to the floor this week to recognize these other, important anniversaries and to honor the people whose sacrifices preserved the country and shaped the times we live in today.

Bill Allowing No-excuse Absentee Voting in NH is Approved by Senate and House

On Thursday, May 30th, the New Hampshire Senate voted 13 – 11 to pass HB611 which would allow any voter who wishes, to cast his or her ballot by mail.  Under current law, voters may only cast absentee ballots if they will be absent from the town or city where they live on election day, have a disability that prevents them from going to the polls, or have conflicts due to religious commitments, employment, the uncompensated care of children or infirm adults, or due to severe weather warnings.  The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature of approval — or veto.

Passage of this bill will significantly impact the volume of absentee ballots that will need to be processed by NH election officials.  During the 2016 State General Election, for example, 3,499 absentee ballots were cast in the City of Nashua.  It would not be unreasonable to assume that this number could double for the 2020 State General Election if HB611 becomes law.  However, supporters of the bill believe that a vote-by-mail option for all qualified voters in NH will increase involvement in the political process.

In a statement released following the Senate’s approval of this bill, the prime sponsor, Rep. Katherine Rogers of Concord, stated “It is time that we join the majority of states in America and increase access to the ballot box by allowing no-excuse absentee balloting….Allowing all eligible voters to access absentee ballots is not only fair, it ultimately increases involvement in the democratic process.”

Sometimes a Bill’s Title Does Not Reflect What the Bill Actually Would Do

During the the March 14th House Session, Representatives approved HB 198, “repealing the prohibition on texting while driving” by a vote of 252 – 73.  Why would so many Legislators approve such a bill?  What the bill actually did was repeal one provision in state law, which only referred to texting (RSA 265:105-a) and reinforced a newer, more comprehensive section of state law (RSA 265-79-c), commonly known as the hands-free law.  And it increased penalties: for a first or second offense, the penalty would be $250 – $1000 (not $100), then not less than $500 for any subsequent offense.  Further, the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles would be able to suspend a driver’s license for 10 days for a second offense and for not less than 10 days for any subsequent offense.  So while the bill’s title suggests that the prohibition against texting while driving was being repealed, the bill was actually strengthening enforcement and penalties for the hands-free law.  The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration and if it passes, it will go to the Governor for his signature or veto.