Susan Bruce: Rinse, lather and repeat

A recent editorial in the Valley News quoted a state rep as describing the current state of affairs at the New Hampshire Legislature in this way, “We address problems that do not exist, we misunderstand problems that do exist, and then we do the wrong thing for ideological reasons.” That pretty much sums it up.
The very first bill passed by our Legislature this year — their urgent priority — was not legislation aimed at fixing our infrastructure, solving our infrastructure problems or doing something about our affordable housing problem or the opioid crisis. The very first order of business was passing a bill to ensure that gun owners were no longer required to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
There have been many attempts to solve non-existent problems. A bill to solve the problem of poor people eating was retained by the House Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee. Senate Bill 7 would have changed the eligibility requirements for food stamps, potentially kicking 17,000 families with children off the program. This was not going to save any money — in fact it was going to cost the state to do it. It did nothing to prevent fraud. All it was going to do was ensure that the working poor would have a harder time feeding their kids. Truly a victory for our well-to-do state senators. Only it wasn’t, because the House HHS committee had an outbreak of decency and decided to retain the bill. They’ll have to act on it, of course, but by the end of the year they may decide to quietly kill it.  
Our governor’s first big appointment was Frank Edelblut, the commissioner of education who has no background in education, homeschooled his seven children and had never been inside a New Hampshire public school. His confirmation was along party lines, despite all those constituent calls to Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who does the wrong thing for ideological reasons at every opportunity.
Sununu chose to drop his nominee to head the Department of Environmental Services, when most of the executive councilors thought businessman Frank Kujawski’s past as a Boy Scout wasn’t enough of a qualification for the position. Kenney, however, was quoted in the press as saying he would have voted for him. He voted for one unqualified guy — why stop now?
Frank “I’ll be an implementer” Edelblut has decided to go for a big power grab. He got Sen. John Reagan to add an amendment to a bill that had already had a public hearing in the House, giving Edelblut’s unchecked power to reconfigure the Department of Education, an undefined plan he apparently developed without speaking to any of his alleged colleagues. There was something of an uproar over that bit of jiggery-pokery, so a public hearing was held, in a room that was too small for it, with Sen. Reagan allowing all the lobbyists to speak before constituents, then berating those who questioned Edelblut’s fitness for the job. Nothing says, “I’m a duly elected representative of the people” like lecturing them for expressing their concerns. Even the Union Leader (the official state mouthpiece for the N.H. GOP) thought Frank’s power grab was a bad idea. Despite the best efforts of Reagan, the Senate Education Committee voted thumbs down on the amendment. It still has to go before the full state Senate.  
To his credit, Edelblut has been out visiting, so at least now he knows what the inside of a New Hampshire public school looks like. He asked the state board of education to reconsider the standards for teaching science, something they’d just spent two years doing. Edelblut’s criticisms of the science standards were based on a report by conservative education think tank, the Fordham Institute. Fordham uses cutting-edge 1950s science teaching as their criteria for evaluation.
The bill to solve the non-existent problem of voter fraud, SB 3, is still languishing in committee. Meanwhile, HB 238, a bill to create yet another study committee to study the actual problem of broadband access to the internet is likely to pass. I predict the study will reveal we need better access, especially in the northern part of the state, and that nothing will come of it. I hope I’m not the only one amused by Sen. Jeb Bradley’s attempts to cloak his opposition to legalizing marijuana in the objections of the police chiefs — the same police chiefs he blithely ignored when it came to concealed carry.
At the N.H. House, the bickering between the self-styled Freedom Caucus and the leadership continues, after their failure to pass their own budget.
None of this will be helped by the recent revelation that GOP State Rep. Robert Fisher from Laconia seems to have had some reprehensible things to say about women in a number of online forums, including one he created. He used a variety of personas to put forth his views, including the astounding statement that rape isn’t all bad, because the rapist enjoys it. Fisher is refusing to resign.
Problems, misunderstanding and ideology. Rinse, lather and repeat.

Susan Bruce is a writer and talk radio personality on “The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen”  on WNHN-FM. She lives in Concord. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com or find the broadcast at www.wnhnfm.org.

Judd Gregg and John Lynch: Why casino gambling is wrong for our state

For more than 40 years New Hampshire Legislatures have debated the merits of legalizing casino gambling, and for 40 years they have rejected it. On May 4, when it next convenes, the New Hampshire House will debate and vote on it once again.
Casino gambling would be wrong for New Hampshire. We urge representatives of both parties to reject it once more. Here's why.
First, and most importantly, casino revenue is not the state budget windfall that many people think it is.
Most states that open the door do not stop at one or two casinos.
Across the country, state governments have become addicted to gambling dollars to fund new or expanded state programs. Experience shows that in any economic downturn these states then turn to gambling tax revenue to try to balance their budgets.
When existing gambling revenue isn't enough they have to add more games and more locations to keep state programs going. This becomes a perpetual problem that only builds on itself. Every state that has opened the door to gaming has experienced this cycle.
Second, it won't take long for the gaming industry to gain undue political influence. All you need is for the owner of a casino, which delivers millions of dollars to the state, to take a position on a bill and say, "If you don't pass this bill, or veto this bill, I'm going to have to lay off hundreds of people," and legislators will be pressured to go along. Just ask state officials in Delaware, which bailed out its casino industry a few years ago to the tune of $8 million.
Third, the potential total revenue from the two casinos the current bill proposes is about $650 million. Where is this money going to come from? It is not like there is the potential of incremental discretionary spending. It's a zero sum game.
The money spent in casinos will come from spending that will be shifted away from local restaurants, shops, theaters or other small businesses into the coffers of large corporations. The $650 million diverted from local businesses to corporate casinos represents the loss of hundreds of jobs and potentially empty storefronts on nearby main streets.
Fourth, as casinos advertise, which they most certainly will do, the New Hampshire brand image will change dramatically. The state does not does not have the dollars to match casino advertising.
Our brand will change from a family-friendly state to one that specializes in gambling. To put it in perspective, over the course of a year, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut spend roughly $25 million in advertising. The State of New Hampshire spends approximately $6 million.
We are not opposed to gambling for moral reasons. We are opposed to it because we believe that it will have an overall negative impact on the State of New Hampshire.
Our state is rated as one of the most livable, one of the safest, and the best state in the country in which to raise children. Why would we ever go forward with a structural change that could negatively impact those metrics?
The collective wisdom of the New Hampshire House of Representatives has served us well on this issue for the last 40 years. In an historic vote last week, the House's own Ways and Means Committee resoundingly gave the latest bill its thumbs down by a vote of 19 to one.
Casino gambling is the wrong choice for New Hampshire. We urge House members to reaffirm that on May 4. Let's not put at risk a successful strategy that is clearly working.

 (R-Rye) served New Hampshire as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981-1989, as governor from 1989-1983 and as U.S. senator from 1992-2011. John Lynch (D-Hopkinton) served as governor of New Hampshire from 2005-2013.

Jerry Knirk: Get the lead out

Often the legislative process works well to solve a problem. A good example is SB 247 working its way through the state Legislature with the aim of preventing childhood lead poisoning.
This bipartisan bill is the product of a legislature-created commission to study lead poisoning. The commission brought together multiple stakeholders, including public health, insurance companies and landlords, to draft a good compromise bill.
There is no safe level of lead in the blood. Lead is toxic to the nervous system and is particularly harmful to children as it interferes with the development of a child’s brain. Many important connections are made in the brain between birth and age 2. Even low blood levels of lead can affect attention, executive functions, visual-spatial skills, social behaviors, speech and language, and motor skills.  Once a child’s brain development has been harmed by lead, the effects can be permanent. Persisting effects include reduced IQ, learning disabilities, reduced educational attainment, behavior changes such as reduced attention span and increased antisocial behavior resulting in juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior. All of these lead to greater likelihood of unemployment, and being a less productive citizen. Because of these vast effects on education, social development and behavioral changes, the most conservative estimate for money saved is that society will get back at least $17 for every dollar that is invested now in lead remediation.
Lead has been quite pervasive in the environment. Lead was added to gasoline beginning in the 1920s, with phase-out beginning in the ’70s, but leaded gas was not banned in the United States until 1996. This resulted in lead in the air, but more importantly in the soil, especially along roads.
Currently, lead paint is a primary source of environmental exposure to lead. New Hampshire has the oldest housing stock in the nation with 62 percent of New Hampshire homes built before the 1978 ban on lead in paint. A child does not need to chew on the windowsill in order to ingest lead. It is released in the home if the paint is disturbed, such as during renovation, if it’s peeling, chipping or chalking, or subject to friction (when lead-painted window sashes are slid up and down) or impact, such as doors and windows closing. Because lead is heavy, it settles on the floor. The soil immediately around the house can also be contaminated from the lead paint on the outside of the house.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure due to their behaviors at the same time their brains are rapidly developing, especially around ages 6 months to 2 years. That is a period of time when they are crawling around on the floor and frequently put objects from the floor into their mouths. A minuscule amount can cause lead poisoning.
As noted from the Flint, Mich., crisis, lead in the water can also be a route of contamination. Lead finds its way into the water from old plumbing fixtures and supply lines, especially if the water is corrosive.
Lead poisoning is entirely preventable but requires aggressive action. The first step is more widespread testing of blood lead levels. Currently only 16 percent of children in New Hampshire under the age of 7 are tested for lead. In 2015, there were 765 children found to have elevated lead levels in New Hampshire, clearly the tip of the iceberg when 84 percent were not even tested.
One of the primary features of SB 247 is universal testing of all 1- and 2-year-old children to determine their blood lead level. Children will be required to have been tested for lead before enrolling in school or child care unless the parent refuses. Without universal testing, we cannot identify the children who have been poisoned and take actions to eliminate the source. The bill lowers the action level for notification of parents and landlords from a blood level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to 3, allowing earlier intervention, and sets standards for testing of drinking water in schools and child care facilities and disclosure of lead contamination in public water systems. SB 247 sets some standards for lead remediation. The bill appropriates a sum of $6 million over the next two years to help with remediation of sources of lead exposure. This amount is far less than what is needed, as the cost of remediation in a single home is about $10,000, but is a good start.
The time to act is now. Each year that we delay, another cohort of toddlers is poisoned, with the significant long-term societal cost and impact.
My column on health-care reform a month ago generated a great deal of interest. This has motivated me to set up a Healthcare Town Hall to encourage community discussion about these issues. Date and location are not yet set, but I am aiming for late June. This would be a community forum in which the major goal would be to get input from the community on what they would like to see in their health care system if they could throw out our current one and start from scratch. Look for more details in later columns.

Jerry Knirk is a retired doctor and a freshman state representative. He lives in Freedom.

National Perspective: In our era of despair, history offers counsel

By David M. Shribman
BUFFALO, N.Y. — A quarter-century ago, only the most wild-eyed, optimistic, maybe slightly crazy visionary could have imagined the Buffalo of today: a modern, tech-oriented city that has transformed rubble into revitalization, taken a tired waterfront and made it a breathtaking walkway, and watched its museums grow from local treasures into major national attractions. This weekend, a forbidding 145-year-old mental institution reopens as a glittering hotel. With its General Mills plant and its colleges, Buffalo is more than ever a city of grain elevators and brain elevators. Optimism, along with the smell of Cheerios, is in the air.
It's a transformation — a happy one, for a change — that gives hope in an era of despair. For while distress, even hopelessness, is all around us, from Syria to North Korea and on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, Buffalo offers us a reminder that this is an unusual period of unresolved issues.
We have faced periods of difficulty, where the ultimate resolution of our challenges was never clear, many times before. We now know that the Union was preserved in the middle of the 19th century, but in 1861 that was no safe bet. We now know that the Allies prevailed in World War II, but in early 1942 that was not the least bit apparent. We now know that the walls of segregation, and the walls of Soviet-style communism, would fall, but in 1963 that was no sure thing.