Rep Steve Vaillancourt



Tuesday
Apr222014

Ho Hum! Ways And Means Votes To Kill Another Gambling Bill

NHINSIDER.COM EXCLUSIVE

Ignorance Is Never Bliss

                As expected, after a rather robust debate in which the same old arguments were reiterated, the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday morning voted 11-9 to kill Senator Lou D’Allesandro’s two casino gambling bill (SB366).

                Not a single vote changed from six weeks ago when the same committee killed a one casino bill, a vote which was then affirmed by a 29 vote margin on the House floor.  The only difference today was that with ranking Republican Norm Major hospitalized, Carol McGuire was deputized to sit in and vote against the bill.

                Joe Osgood, R-Claremont, once again was the difference between defeat and a tie for the bill.  Remember, he was placed on the committee earlier this year by Minority Leader Gene Chandler after a pro gambling Representative (Azarian from Salem) resigned.

                The committee also voted against two amendments.  Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, wanted monies from the casinos earmarked for the highway department, thus obviating the need for a gasoline tax increase, and for a decrease in the state’s business taxes.  That amendment failed 8-12 with Jack Kelly the only Democrat to vote for it (Republicans Hess and Osgood voted against it).

                Also failing 7-13 was an amendment which would have allowed simultaneous applications for both casinos.  Currently, at least a day but as much time as a year could separate processing of the two casino applications.  Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, argued the amendment was in the spirit of encouraging competition from day one; that made sense to me, but Hess implied it could create “havoc” in the application process, an absurd idea if ever there were one.  It almost seemed like those voting against the amendment were doing so to prevent making the bill better (for Libertarian types like myself) and thus making it more appealing when it gets to the House floor.

                I guess that last clause answers a question in the back of mind.  Should I approach this as an effort at “straight” reporting or salt this story with my usual share of opinions.

                As always, I’m rather fond of salt.

                Even had the Ames amendment passed, the bill as amended was doomed to failure.

                The only question now is whether enough votes will be changed on the House floor to overturn the committee recommendation and allow other amendment to be brought forward.

                Until today, I would have ranked the chances of that as rather good, but frankly pro gamblers seemed especially dispirited by today’s vote. 

The so-called “bribe” (not my word) of $25 million a year to local communities in re venue sharing didn’t seem to be working.

Even the $110 million “problem” created by the court’s recent Medicaid hospital decision didn’t seem to be swaying people in favor of the gambling bill.

Ways and Means Chair Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, said she has spent 18 years trying to make our revenue system work and we still have options other than gambling.

                Perhaps the most interesting give and take of the morning was between anti-gambling Democrats in regard to what those other options might be.  When Mary Cooney, D-Plymouth, mentioned that Alaska is the only other state without either a sales or income tax (a not so veiled suggestion that we should move in that direction), Vice Chair Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham,  quickly chimed in that the choice is not between gambling and an income tax.

                Apparently both Cooney and Gil Shattuck, D-Hillsborough, were off the anti-gambling script in even suggesting tangentially that defeat of this bill could lead to an income or sales tax.

                Even Almy, a long-time supporter of an income tax, did not want to go there.  She did, however, face up what some are reluctant to admit these days, that they are anti-gambling for “moralistic” reasons.  Gambling destroys are businesses “and our families”, she asserted just prior to the vote.

                Another interesting threat of debate could be termed the something versus nothing argument.  When Frank Davis, D-Pembroke, went through a litany of how gambling revenue expectations were coming up short in several states, both Sapareto and Ames were quick to respond that at least other states are getting some gambling revenue.  A few years ago, Ohio received nothing, he countered, when Davis suggested that Ohio is getting only $821 million a year, only 57 percent of the $1.4 billion it had expected.

                “We’re standing on the tracks; the train is coming,” Sapareto commented, adding that getting something, even if less than expected, is better than getting nothing.

                As a neutral observer (What?  Me neutral?), I’d have to say that Sapareto and Ames clearly won that argument.  Sorry Rep. Davis, but something is certainly better than nothing; if you don’t believe that, see if a starving man will accept half a loaf of bread. 

                Is our state starving for revenue?  Probably so, but then we’ve as Rep. Almy contents, we’ve always been able to find sustenance at another trough up till now.

                Don’t get me wrong; I’m still not committed to voting for the bill.  I remain concerned that the state’s take is only 35 percent; we should be willing to take less money up front and ask a greater annual percentage.  I’m also concerned that only two locations get the 5000 machines; we could certainly work a third facility into the mix.

                Bottom line, at least for me, is that, unlike with the last gambling bill, I will vote to overturn the ITL motion in the hopes that the bill can be approved by amendments before a final ought to pass motion is offered.

                We may never get there, and I’m not sure how much of these same old arguments House members want to hear, but for me at least, more is better this time around.

                I deeply suspect that while she is remaining neutral publicly, lame duck Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, will be working behind the scenes to kill the bill just as she secretly conspired to kill HB492, regarding the legalization, regulation and taxation of small amounts of marijuana, despite at least four to one support by members of her own party.

                Even though she’s not saying so publicly, rest assured that Governor Maggie Hassan wants this bill to pass.  She may indeed prefer her “high end highly regulated single destination casino”, but they would sign this bill in a New York minute (does that metaphor even make sense?).

Monday
Apr212014

Neither Odell Nor Norelli Resignation Should Alter Political Landscape

IGNORANCE IS NEVER BLISS

No sooner had we had a chance to digest the news of the retirement of Republican State Senator Bob Odell, of Lempster (District 8), generally considered one of the swing votes in the Senate, than word came forth that Speaker Terie Norelli, of Portsmouth, is also retiring.

Neither decision should change the political landscape heading into the November election.

Democrats are most likely to lose control of the New Hampshire House, a prediction I made as early as January and now confirmed by James Pindel of WMUR. He says the natural course of redistricting should produce a 20 seat advantage for Republicans, but that it could be more with winds at the backs of Republicans.

I've been working on increasing my estimates from a Republican gain of 32 seats which would give them a margin of 210-190, somewhat tentative due to the RINO factor, to closer to 50 seats which give the GOP a safer lead with 225-230 seats to 170-175 for Democrats.  Note that, if anything, my past predictions have prove too conservative! In other words, I often see the wave coming but fail to grasp its maginitude, and I suspect that might be the case again this year.  Stay tuned.

Hey, no wonder Norelli has decided not to run again. After serving two terms as Speaker (2006-2010), she was forced into the minority when her party fell to 102 seats in the 2010 election.

Been there, done that! She can read the tea leaves as well as anyone else and doesn't appear to want to be forced into the minority again. This is very much like national Democratic House members who have opted not to run again, realizing there is no chance for their party to regain control, at least not this year and most likely not this decade. If only Nancy Pelosi would pull a Norelli!

As for the Odell seat, here's a dirty little secret that you can say you heard here first. But for the masterful job of redistricting done by Senate Republicans two years ago, this seat would in fact lean Democratic, but GOP graybeards apparently realized that Odell, who could hold the seat no matter how Democratic it veered, would not stick around forever.

While Raybo and his fellow Dems may claim the seat is now in play, it really isn't. Redistricting removed strong Democratic areas and replaced them with Republican ones. For the sake of brevity, I'll just note a few here; the numbers in parentheses are the Obama vs. Reagan totals from 2012 (Obama always listed first), so you'll quickly get an idea of how this district is by and large out of reach for Democrats (especially if a moderate Republican like David Kidder, of New London, survives a primary challenge from the right).

Gone are Claremont (3252-2147), Walpole (1284-793), Charlestown (1365-856), and Westmoreland (676-411) replaced by Republican strongholds like Weare (2105-2592) and other towns which barely went Democratic in 2012 and are not likely to this year, Bradford (503-456) for example.

The redistricting effect was not felt immediately (2012), but the kick will kick in this year, and Republicans owe a debt of gratitude (if not actual cash) for whoever designed that plan (no names please).

District 8 is not a sure thing for Republicans, but they should be able to hold the seat just like Democrats will certainly hold Norelli's Portsmouth seat no matter who runs.

Portsmouth, after all, is to New Hampshire what Cambridge is to Massachusetts or what Burlington was to Vermont before the entire Green Mountain State went socialist crazy!

Odell Defines Honor, Norelli Dishonor

By the way, I both like and respect Senator Odell a great deal, and he will indeed be missed.

Sadly, I cannot say the same for the Speaker. 

As for Norelli, her dictatorial tactics, verging on fascism, are much more real than the main stream media would ever allow the public to understand.  Her decision on allowing in a non-germane amendment (for a gun study) was an outrage and prime example of tyranny of the majority—neglect of rules is a prime weapon in the fascistic arsenal.

At least four times this year (and I will name them later in a lengthy report which I’ve held back on), Speaker Norelli has muzzled committee chairs or vice chairs to the detriment of good government.  This long-standing rule that no chair or vice chair is allowed to speak against a committee on the House floor has no place in our democracy, but it’s become a mainstay in Norelli’s motus operandi.

Clearly, as I revealed in her “no more bathroom bills” comment to me earlier, Norelli cares more playing politics and avoiding tough issues to keep her party in control than in acting on principles.  Just this past week, I’ve learned (and I have an email to prove it) how she was going out of her way behind the scenes to kill HB492, regarding legalization, regulation, and taxation of small amounts of marijuana, despite support from four out of five Democrats polled.  A more devious politician than Norelli would be hard to find, and that doesn’t even include her newfound use of the word “dilatory” to stifle free speech.

Terie Norelli will not be missed…at least not be me or by anyone who cherishes fair and open government.

Is it too late to strip me of a committee assignment?  Ask me if I care.  The truth, as always, comes first.

Monday
Apr212014

This Week's Trivia--100% Times Four

The House Republican Alliance, that group of more conservative House Republicans who rate bills on what they perceive to be Republican principles, is out with its mid-session score sheet of all Representatives based on votes of no fewer than 87 bills for which it had offered recommendations.

A score of 100 would mean a Rep voted with the HRA on all 87 roll call votes. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the average score was 43.8 percent with your average Republican scoring in the 82 percent range and your average Democrat around 13 percent (it would actually be closer to 10 percent had three or four Democrats not pushed the average up).

The average score is down 5.9 percent from the 2013 session.

I'm a little different; my score of 85.1 is 17 percent higher than last year. My only explanation is that more social issues were built into last year's score and more fiscal and big (or small) government issues this year. I tend to stray from Republican orthodoxy on social issues (gay marriage for example) but seldom on fiscal issues.

By the way, the HRA did not take a position on either marijuana legalization or decriminalization; I was for both.

If for no other reason, this HRA rank is great as a proxy for attendance. To get an attendance score on all Reps, we have to wait till the end of the session (or go through every roll call vote personally), but with 87 votes included in this HRA work, the indication if fairly accurate.

My attendance, as usual, is 100 percent; in other words, I was present for all 87 roll calls as opposed to a pathetic 19.5 percent attendance for my fellow Ward 8 Manchester Representative, Tom Katsiantonis.

Manchester attendance as a group is truly pathetic, but I digress.

The purpose here is trivia, and the HRA work serves as the basis for a delicious trivia question.

Who is the only New Hampshire State Representative to record a perfect 100 percent in attendance and 100 percent score for Republican principles as seen by the HRA and for the second year in a row, mind you? I'm not saying the four 100 scores are good (I find it difficult to believe how anyone could always vote in line with any group on everything), but the fact is intriguing.

Need help?

Is it?

HRA Co-Chair Carol McGuire, R-Epsom

HRA Co-Chair Pam Tucker, R-Greenland

HRA Co-Chair Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry

Dan McGuire, R-Epsom

Moe Villeneuve, R-Bedford; or

Michael Garcia, D-Nashua

The answer is Moe Villeneuve of Bedford.

Carol McGuire hit 100 and 100 this year, but her 2013 score was "only" 99.

Dan McGuire must have disagreed with the HRA on one vote; his score was 98.8 (99 last year).

Pam Tucker hit 100 this year but was "only" 97.1 last year.

Al Baldasaro was 97.6 and 97.8 (he parts company with the Republican anti-gambling position).

Michael Garcia was in fact the highest scoring Democrat at 89.8 and 87.5 percent. The second highest scoring Democrat was Tim O'Flaherty, Manchester, at 85/4 and 75.8...hmmm...very close to my scores.  Joel Winters was the third highest Democrat but only at 51.7 percent after being at63 percent last year.

The worst (or best depending on your point of view) Democrat...ah well, check for yourself.

If you desire info, either on the score or attendance, the data is currently posted on the HRA web site.

Here's a link.

House Republican Alliance (HRA)

www.nhhra.org/
The House Republican Alliance (HRA) issued the their mid session score card for the New Hampshire house today. Eighty-seven roll called bills were used to ...
Monday
Apr212014

Monitor Is Right On "Sexual Orientation" Amendment

Score one for the Concord Monitor. I completely agree with its editorial today "Amendment opposition is short sighted" regarding the attempt to add "sexual orientation" to our constitutional protections.

I wrote at length on this a few weeks ago and apparently aroused some passions from some in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, transgender) community who are convinced that we should not move forward with the amendment unless gender identify is spelled out clearly as a protection.

I continue to disagree with this group and concur with the amendment's sponsor, Senator David Pierce, D-Hanover, and the Monitor that we need to move forward with this amendment as it is currently worded, now.

The Monitor has it exactly right--if in fact "sexual orientation" does not include transgender rights (and I am convinced it does), then that's an issue to be fought later.

Let's not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Just as we accepted same sex unions when same sex marriage was a step too far, we decided to come back later to finish to job. We should pass this constitutional amendment on to the voters, and if it in fact doesn't go far enough, we can come back later as public opinion continues to advance.

When the amendment went to the House Judiciary Committee, one of its sponsors, Ed Butler, D-Carroll County, spoke against it. He was right when he decided to co-sponsor the amendment; he was wrong when he spoke against his own work before the committee.

I don't see the bill on this week's calendar, so I assume Judiciary has yet to act on it.

Here's a link to the Monitor editorial; apparently the paper has a new policy which does not allow material to be copied for use. Congratulations!

"The New Hampshire House will soon vote on Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 17, which would explicitly outlaw discrimination based on “sexual orientation.” The language would join “race, creed, color, sex or national origin” under “equality of rights under the law” that “shall not be denied or abridged by this state.” The Senate passed the change unanimously, 23-0, and it needs three-fifths passage in the House before it can go to voters in November.

Certain conservatives and a segment of the LGBT community are united in opposition to the amendment, obviously for different reasons.

The argument from the far right is familiar. Brian McCormack, executive director of Cornerstone Action, said the first responsibility of lawmakers “is to protect and uphold our constitutionally protected freedoms, not pass and enact laws that guarantee special safeguards for some, but bully and punish others.” Follow McCormack’s logic further and nothing less than the destruction of New Hampshire’s economy and social fabric will occur should this specific protection be added to the state constitution.

Tired, predictable and alarmist.

More troubling is opposition from LGBT activists. Their criticism of the amendment involves the failure to spell out protections for the transgender community. It is difficult to fault anybody for expressing those concerns, but political and social reality makes this battle feel perilous. Any interpretation of “sexual orientation” should include the state’s transgender residents, but if and when it doesn’t, that is the time to join this battle. By fighting now, the LGBT community risks turning an amendment with wide support into an opportunity for the far right to hijack the debate.

Progress has always been about the pace of change. When the Founding Fathers crafted the U.S. Constitution, they were fully aware that the failure to address slavery was a sleeping giant. The Civil War was a steep price to pay for caution, but it’s unlikely there would have been a union to preserve had the Founders demanded an end to slavery during the nation’s infancy. Revolution is never tidy and often too slow.

There is one other change proposed in the amendment that illustrates the importance of word choice. Right now, the section of the state Constitution on natural rights begins, “All men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights . . .”

The amendment would change the second word to “individuals” to eliminate the anachronistic use of “men” to describe all human beings. The right word, however, is “people.” Not only is it more correct, it better reflects the spirit of the natural rights section of the state’s bill of rights.

All people, regardless of skin color, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve to live their lives free of discrimination. To dispute any part of that is to turn a blind eye to the nation’s long history of steady social progress."

Friday
Apr182014

Conboy Questioning Indicates Voucher Bill Is In Fact Illegal

                Although legal experts will always caution you not to read too much into questions posed by judges during hearings before them, quite clearly New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Ann Conboy was sending a signal this week that she agrees with a lower court that the tuition voucher bill (passed into law over Governor John Lynch’s veto two years ago) is clearly unconstitutional.

                Are you ready for my four favorite words in the English language?

                I told you so.

                In this case, I told you so when the House bent to the pressure of then Speaker Bill O’Brien; when even some Republicans whom I respect (no names please; you know who you are and you merit no profile in courage on this one), those who have always opposed such thinly disguised voucher bills in the past, refused to stand up to the Speaker.  Hey, standing up to your Speaker is not an easy thing to do; it could get you removed for a committee if you show the courage to do it!

                I told you the so called legal genius Representative David Hess, R-Hooksett, swore up and down on the House floor that this bill would pass Constitutional muster.

                I told you so when the Union Leader (no constitutional experts there obviously) editorialized in favor of what is clearly an unconstitutional measure.

                I told you so when think tank guru Charlie Arlinghaus (apparently not thinking too much about the Constitution) insisted that even though the lower court had ruled this voucher scheme unconstitutional, it would ultimately be okayed by the Supreme Court.

                I told you so even at the risk of alienating Republicans and Libertarians. Oh by the way, don’t for a minute start thinking I’m not a good Republican or a good Libertarian.  According to the House Republican Alliance score sheet just released (based on 77 roll call votes this year), I rate 85,1 percent, better than Hess at 81.4 percent and much better than most other Republicans leaders (Chandler 79.5, Packard 74.6, Jasper at pathetic 68.7)

                I suspect I’ll rate equally as highly when the Gold Standard (Libertarians) score sheet comes out in a few months.

                However, one did not have to be a legal genius to figure out that, even if you liked the idea of vouchers, this bill clearly violated not one but two sections of our Constitution prohibiting any public monies, no matter how thoroughly laundered, from going to religious institutions.

                Money in this bill, in fact, was laundered to such an extent that underworld figures would have gone to jail had they been caught in such a money laundering scheme.

                As reported in at least two media versions of this week’s hearing, Chief Justice Conboy seemed to get it.

                Here’s how Jeremy Blackman of the Concord Monitor reported it.

                “Justice Carol Ann Conboy seemed skeptical yesterday that the cash was anything but public.  The factual reality is, she said, without the credit those taxpaying businesses would be obligated to pay the taxes to the state.”

                I couldn’t have said it better myself, but then, I’m no lawyer like David Hess who insisted the money laundering scheme was perfectly legal.

                But perhaps you don’t want to accept the Monitor’s reporting.

                Okay.  Let’s go to Pat Grossmith in the Union Leader.  I quote, “Justice Carol Ann Conboy asked if it were true if three were not tax credit the business would be obligated to pay the business profits and business enterprise taxes to the state.  That’s true, Head replied.”

                Head is the Assistant Attorney General assigned the impossible task of defending this clearly unconstitutional bill for the state.

                The Monitor report notes that Alex Luchenitser, an attorney arguing aginst the law, said the program violates Article 83 of the State Constitution which prohibits tax dollars from being spent on religious education.  He said it shouldn’t matter whether the money is generated directly from taxes.

                Bingo!

                The sad history of this bill should serve as a case study in how dangerous it is when one party, either party I hasten to add, is given near total control of a state.  The fact that it was Republicans, provided with nearly a three to one advantage in the House and a 19-5 advantage in the Senate after the 2010 election, is especially sad for me.

                The fact that I was one of a very few in my party willing to stand up for the Constitution when people like bill O’Brien cracked the whip…well, that’s even sadder.

As always, best government is divided government.  When either party is given too great a majority, the temptation to ignore the Constitution is simply too great for most men and women to avoid.

That’s another reason for treasuring our founders who gave us the judiciary as a last resort for putting an end to political chicanery, as passage of this bill clearly was, by either party.

                Now that I’ve sufficiently angered fellow Republicans and Libertarians, I should get back to criticizing Democrats, from Obama to Hassan and Norelli, who are truly ruining our country and our state on far greater matters than a few illegal vouchers.