NHDP - ICYMI: Politics trumps policy in House

Let's stipulate from the outset that there is nothing new - or particularly ingenious, for that matter - about lawmakers attaching unrelated amendments onto popular bills that have a much better chance of passage.


Congress does it. Statehouses across the country do it. And the New Hampshire Legislature is no exception.


In fact, The Telegraph's Capitol Watch project was able to identify roughly two-dozen bills that were rejected by either the House or Senate that magically turned up as amendments to unrelated bills still up for consideration in the other chamber.


Some of these will come up Wednesday, when the Senate meets to act on its own bills that were amended in the House - many with language that has nothing to do with the intent of the original legislation.


And perhaps the most egregious act of parliamentary poppycock involves SB 295, a popular bill introduced by Sen. Bob Odell, R-Lempster, that would raise the research and development tax credit for New Hampshire businesses from $1 million to $2 million each year and strike the provision in the original law that the credit would expire July 1, 2013.

The bill was so well-received, in fact, that the Senate passed it by a unanimous 24-0 vote. Given the Republican-controlled House's oft-stated commitment to jobs and the economy, we suspect it might have met with a similar fate except for one thing: House leaders were miffed at the Senate for killing some of their priority legislation.


Apparently, one of those must-have bills was the "Women's Right to Know Act" (HB 1659) - sponsored by Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack - which would have required any woman seeking an abortion to wait 24 hours after meeting her physician to give her informed consent. The bill passed the House by a 47-vote margin, but the Senate voted late last month to kill it, 12-11.


That didn't sit too well with House Speaker William O'Brien and other Republicans leaders, so they decided to engage in a game of legislative chicken with the aforementioned R&D bill: They stripped out the $1 million tax credit increase and attached the already rejected 24-hour abortion language onto it.


So now the Senate's R&D bill reads as follows: "An act relative to the research and development tax credit against the business profits tax and relative to the women's right to know act regarding abortion information."


To which we say: Huh?


Frankly, we don't know what's worse: that House Republican leaders were so eager to engage in petty politics with their GOP brethren in the Senate, or that the much-ballyhooed, pro-business House leadership was willing to put a popular pro-business bill in jeopardy to make a purely political point.


For its part, the Senate addressed one key aspect of the R&D bill last week when it voted to back a House-approved measure (HB 518) that extends the credit through 2015.


As we've stated a number of times over the years, the practice of attaching to other bills controversial legislation that can't stand on its own merits is a terrible way to do the people's business.


Not only can it lead to the passage of legislation that doesn't have majority support, but it also can give lawmakers cover when confronted by voters at election time over why they voted for a piece of legislation.


It's bad politics. It's bad for transparency. And, ultimately, it's bad for democracy.


Read the Nashua Telegraph editorial here