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Susan Bruce: Obstruction and sabotage

By Susan Bruce
The New Hampshire legislature is plowing through the 800-plus bills that have been filed by our current crop of legislators. Some committees wind up with a disproportionate share of bills, just by virtue of committee. The Commerce and Consumer Affairs is going to get more bills than Fish and Game and Marine Resources. Those same committees that get more bills are also going to get more nuisance bills — bills filed so that the minority party can make a "statement."
The biggest statement of all was the return of right to work, this time titled the Franklin Partin Right to Work Act. Former Speaker Bill O'Brien, who seems determined to have this same losing fight every year, sponsored this bill. He couldn't get a RTW bill passed when he had a GOP majority, so one wonders why he's making the effort now. A cynical person might surmise that it guarantees that the RTW fat cats will fund his next campaign, and that he'll ask for a roll call vote on this, to target Republicans who dare vote against his wishes, so that he and his out of state RTW buddies can target them in 2014.
Representatives O'Brien, Baldasaro, Warden, Boehm, Cebrowksi, Kappler, and Comerford sponsored this year's RTW bill. All are Republicans. Two are Free Staters.
O'Brien testified that N.H. can either join the rest of the RTW states and enjoy the benefits, or be doomed to be part of the forced union Northeastern states. Even government workers are leaving the unions, he opined. He did not, of course, point out the reason for that — that government workers are losing their jobs. N.H. is going to become an economic backwater because 7 percent of the workers are unionized in our state. Young people are leaving in droves, because jobs aren't being created. O'Brien was asked if young people are leaving because of high tuition rates, but said he'd seen no data on that.
It's well documented that workers in RTW states earn, on average, $1,500 a year less than those in non-RTW states. When questioned about that, O'Brien said that the new jobs being created in RTW states look like low-wage jobs but they really aren't. Rep. Leon Rideout of Lancaster wanted us to know that the cost of living is lower in RTW states. He seemed to think that that would happen in N.H. if N.H. became a RTW state. The sad news for Rep. Rideout is that we'd still have some of the highest electricity costs in the nation (thank you, Papa Sununu) and we'd still have heating oil costs. We'd also still have some of the highest property taxes in the country. The magic RTW unicorn isn't going to solve any of those problems.
N.H. has a tiny union presence, and no company has ever refused to come here because of it. There was no one from a private company at that hearing to testify in favor of it. It was, however, a hearing that lasted 2.5 hours of the committee's time.
O'Brien refused a committee assignment. This means that while every other representative is serving on a committee wading through stacks of bills, O'Brien has nothing to do but enjoy himself as he watches his fellow legislators waste hours of their time on nuisance bills that he has filed.
That became apparent when I watched him smirking in the back of the House chamber, during the hearing on HB271, a bill to stop the state from accepting federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. Just the day before this hearing, Tea Party Governor John Kasich announced he was accepting the federal monies for Ohio. Hundreds of people attended the hearing in Representatives Hall. No more than a dozen of them testified in favor of the bill — and many who did were the same folks who testified in favor of RTW the week before. The vast majority of folks who attended the hearing were there to speak on behalf of the people in our state who have no health insurance. It was essentially an ideological hearing: the compassionate vs. the compassionless. The hearing took up hours of committee time, as well as the time of the concerned citizens and professionals who came to testify. The man without a committee was unconcerned. In fact, he seemed pleased.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard HB502 and 503. The lead sponsor for both of these bills was Rep. Dan Itse, who filed similar bills last year. In fact, Itse is not at all afraid to waste committee member's time and taxpayer dollars on filing the same bills over and over again. He does it every year.
Both of these bills would impact N.H. domestic violence laws, which are some of the strongest in the country. HB502 would prohibit a law enforcement officer from arresting an abuser unless the officer witnesses the abuse, or the victim goes to court to file a criminal complaint. HB 503 would prohibit a law enforcement officer from arresting an abuser unless the victim files, or has previously filed, a criminal complaint. Even if the officer witnesses the abuse, they cannot make an arrest. It removes law enforcement's ability to arrest for a violation of a stalking or domestic violence protective order UNTIL the victim has filed a criminal complaint with the court. And as we all know, courts are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
There was excellent opposition testimony from organizations including the N.H. Chiefs of Police Association, the N.H. Attorney General's office, the N.H. Department of Safety, and the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
As for the bill's sponsor? Itse could not offer any coherent or convincing testimony for changing the laws, but that wasn't really the point.
Last session, O'Brien formed the infamous House Redress of Grievances Committee. This committee was a place for everyone unhappy about their experiences in the N.H. judicial system to go. It was a place for legislators who fancy themselves lawyers and judges to behave thusly. The committee became a forum mostly for angry men who were unhappy with their divorces and their custody arrangements. They are often MRAs: Men's Rights Activists — men who blame the feminists because their wives left them. The Redress of Grievances Committee was disbanded at the beginning of the current legislative session.
Itse and co-sponsor Rep. Al Baldasaro (with an assist from Rep. Jeffrey Oligny) brought in some of their angry men (one an ex-cop engaging in some ill-concealed carry) from the Redress of Grievances Committee to air their dirty laundry in front of the committee. They were sad stories. They were also one sided. And none of them had any relevance to the bills. If I were on that committee I'd be furious that Itse had wasted hours of my time with this sideshow. It was also a huge time drain on all of the very qualified professionals who came to testify in opposition to the bills. These are same bills that didn't pass last session with a GOP majority.
Filing the same bills over and over, knowing they won't pass, in an effort to gum up the works is a form of sabotage.
Note: More reports on committee hearings are available at my blog.
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