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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: House members go AWOL

May 06. 2018 12:03AM

It looks like Republicans are going to get a third bite of the apple when it comes to school choice, with another vote likely on SB 193, the bill to create freedom scholarships or private school vouchers, depending on your point of view.

Supporters of the bill are no doubt hoping that a good portion of the 38 Republicans who were absent or not voting on the bill last week decide to show up.

There's an attendance problem in the House, and it's been a significant barrier to the GOP agenda. SB 193 is a good example but not the only one.

According to the SB 193 roll call posted on the Legislature's website, 38 Republicans were either excused (meaning they notified the House in advance) or simply not voting (whereabouts unknown). Eight votes in support of SB 193, which failed 165-172 on Thursday, could have shifted the outcome.

There are 215 Republicans currently seated in the 400-member chamber, but nearly 20 percent of them did not show up or vote on one of the biggest public policy items on the party agenda for 2018.

Democrats, with 173 members seated, were missing 19 members, or a little more than 10 percent of their caucus.

The Libertarian caucus of three had the worst turnout, with only one of the three present for the vote. The one Libertarian who did vote supported the school choice measure.

The conservative policy group, Americans for Prosperity, keeps a scorecard of bills it is promoting, which is closely aligned with the GOP platform. That scorecard, according to AFP-NH Director Greg Moore, shows that the inability of House Republicans to get many of their bills across the finish line this past session has a lot to do with "no-shows."

"That's par for the course, it seems," said Moore of last week's poor attendance during some of the most important voting days of the year. Many of the bills that AFP hoped would pass ended up going nowhere.

"Just looking at the number of votes absent in all those cases, it's gotten to the point where the determining factor is who is in the room," he said. "You might have a majority, if you can get your members to show up. It's a challenge on a regular basis."

A handful of Republican members have missed every vote on every bill on the AFP scorecard, says Moore.

A key priority for the pro-life movement, a bill to prohibit abortions after fetal viability (HB 1680), was tabled in late March on a close 170-163 vote. That's a total of 333 votes in a House that currently has 391 members seated.

Moore, who has worked as chief of staff for the House, said attendance has always been an issue, given that members are not paid (except for $100 a year, plus mileage), and many have full-time jobs. But the same can be said for the Senate, where it's rare for more than one of the 24 members to be absent.

"In the 2011-2012 session, we were getting 350 to 360 in a typical roll call," he said. "But to see 320 as typical, that's light."

As candidates for House hit the campaign trail this summer and fall, a good question to pose to those who come knocking on your door might be, "Do you plan to show up?" That's a question leadership in both parties will no doubt be posing to their members this week.

Rail study derailed

The House and Senate are at odds on several key issues as the session winds down, and it's hard to predict whose position will prevail on things like school choice, animal cruelty, town election scheduling or school nurse certification.

But here's a safe bet: The Senate's decision to strip the $4 million federally funded commuter rail study from the 10-year transportation plan will prevail.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a longtime opponent of extending the MBTA commuter rail service into southern New Hampshire, briefly favored the idea when he was pitching Amazon HQ2 for New Hampshire, but reverted to his original position after the bid failed.

The House left the rail study in the plan anyway when it voted in March, but the Senate removed it in a vote on Thursday.

An effort to keep rail study in the plan failed in a 12-12 vote, with Republican Sens. Dan Innis of Portsmouth and Kevin Avard of Nashua joining all 10 Senate Democrats.

New Hampshire Businesses for Rail Expansion, a statewide, nonpartisan business coalition that launched in January, says its 110 members aren't giving up.

The analysis would examine different aspects of the proposed Capitol Corridor Rail Expansion Project, which would extend passenger rail from Boston to Manchester.

"We will build off the momentum gained during this legislative session and continue to grow our coalition of bipartisan supporters," said coalition spokesperson E.J. Powers.

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