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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: AG sides with governor on not joining net-neutrality suit

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

December 21. 2017 12:02AM




The state’s top prosecutor sided with his governor and against the entire congressional delegation, taking a pass on joining any lawsuit that challenges the Federal Communications Commission rules on net neutrality.

The all-Democratic delegation last week had urged Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald to join a growing number of state lawyers who are at least considering a legal challenge to the FCC’s 3-2 controversial decision last week.

But MacDonald said it’s properly a federal and not a state matter. “Federal telecommunications policy and regulation is a matter reserved for Congress and federal agencies and, thus, is outside the jurisdiction and expertise of this Office,” MacDonald wrote the delegation.

“We will monitor Congress’ response to this order. New Hampshire will not be joining a lawsuit on this matter. This Office will continue to enforce vigorously the consumer protection act and all other laws to protect New Hampshire consumers and business.”

It didn’t take long for Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen along with Congresswomen Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster to register their displeasure.

“It’s very disappointing that no sufficient reason has been provided for New Hampshire not joining other states across the country in a lawsuit opposing the repeal of net neutrality rules,” they wrote. “Considering the broad public support for net neutrality and the real threat this repeal poses to business innovation and the consumer experience online, New Hampshire should be leading efforts to reinstate net neutrality. In Congress, we are supportive of legislative efforts to reverse this FCC decision. However, this does not preclude the state of New Hampshire from leading similar efforts through our judicial system.”

Executive Councilors Chris Pappas and Andru Volinsky, also Democrats, had made the same request.

Before the vote, 18 state attorneys general had urged the FCC to delay its decision and several said they’re weighing a lawsuit.

Gov. Chris Sununu said getting rid of net neutrality will lead to a more free market and concerns about its repeal are overblown.

“I am not convinced that a repeal of a rule that went into effect just two years ago is going to have the adverse impact that some are claiming,” Sununu wrote in a statement.

“In a free market, it is the consumers that will ultimately make choices that will incentivize companies to provide a better product.”

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A state superior court judge has ended a very ugly financial dispute between Secretary of State Bill Gardner and a hired consultant, former North Hampton Selectman Michael Coutu.

Their relationship had started well when Gardner brought on Coutu as a contractor to the New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation after Gardner’s regulators had moved to take action against the Local Government Center for improper co-mingling of its money and for keeping excess profits that Gardner said rightfully belonged to the city, town and county clients of the LGC’s health trust.

According to Gardner, he fired Coutu when there was a falling-out about how these insurance pools should be managed.

Coutu said the state kept asking for his help even after he was let go.

Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara, the court’s expert in business disputes, said Coutu “satisfied or exceeded” terms of the contract and ordered Gardner to pay Coutu more than $154,000.

McNamara ordered the state to pay Coutu’s legal fees, which turned a dispute of just over $23,000 to the $154,000 judgment.

Gardner said he was disappointed by the ruling.

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The Communications Workers of America, representing 300 employees in New Hampshire, has joined the state Business and Industry Association, and other groups in urging Sununu to reconsider his decision on the FirstNet nationwide communication network for emergency responders.

The federal government has issued the contract for the program to AT&T, and any state that fails to opt out of the program will automatically be enrolled in the AT&T FirstNet program. New Hampshire is the only state so far to decide to opt out, and instead build its own network with a upstart communications firm known as Rivada.

The Rivada network will still have to integrate with the national network being built by AT&T.

“AT&T’s FirstNet solution is the only network that has been built for and with the input of public safety professionals,” writes Don Trementozzi, president of New Hampshire CWA Local 1400, in a letter to Sununu. “For more than two years, FirstNet and AT&T consulted with New Hampshire’s first responder community about which network features were most vital to helping public safety professionals save more lives.”

Executive councilors from both parties have expressed reservations about the Rivada proposal. On Wednesday, North Country Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Union, released a Dec. 19 letter from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which controls the FirstNet project, warning that the state stands to lose valuable incentives offered by AT&T, including 48 new cell towers.

In an interview Wednesday, Sununu reaffirmed his decision to finalize a contract with Rivada and bring it to the Executive Council for approval, most likely in January. “I have a lot of confidence the solution Rivada would bring to New Hampshire is far and away the best solution,” he said.

The Josiah Bartlett Center, a conservative, free market think tank based in Concord, said in a policy paper this week that the safest option for the state was to opt in to FirstNet and not try to lead the nation bailing out of it.

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A longtime Concord lobbying firm created a new public affairs and government relations unit, RYP Granite Strategies.

Rath, Young and Pignatelli was one of the first law firms in New Hampshire to aggressively get into the lobbying business more than three decades ago under former Attorney General Tom Rath.

RYP Granite Strategies expands its lobbying practice to a five-person unit led by president and longtime lobbyist David Collins.

The two other full-time lobbyists also take leadership roles in the group — Gina Powers as director of government relations and Glenn Wallace as manager of government relations.

Former South Carolina and New Hampshire lobbyist and legislative aide Richard Parsons and David McKillop round out the group.

“It has always been very important to us to be forward-thinking and out in front of what our clients need and expect,” said firm President Sherilyn Burnett Young. “RYP Granite Strategies will provide more flexibility for the firm, the government relations arm, and most importantly, for clients.”

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House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, has turned to reward former Republican rivals of his for the gavel with leadership roles.

Chandler and House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, formed a Committee on Elections and Fundraising to assist him in putting together a team of winning candidates for 2018.

Two who challenged Bartlett for speaker before the Republican caucus, Charlestown Rep. Steven Smith and Goffstown Rep. John Burt will co-chair the panel along with Northwood Rep. Yvonne Dean-Bailey.

“Our ability to maintain and grow our majority depends on our ability to recruit strong candidates, run effective campaigns, and raise the money necessary to support our candidates,” said Speaker Chandler. “I believe this team is comprised of the right people to expand our efforts for the 2018 election.”

Chandler broke from the past during his campaign with the vow not to make donations that favor some Republican candidates against others in primaries.

Former Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, came to power with the backing of House Democrats, which made him and the upset Republican minority on his team targets of some Republican attempts to unseat them. As a result, Jasper said he was forced to support some Republicans even if they were in primaries with other peers.

Chandler won a lot of goodwill by vowing to end that practice.

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A leading state gun’s lobby and the Milford Board of Selectmen have already drawn weapons in advance of a pitched fight in 2018 over legislation to penalize towns that try to control gun use.

The New Hampshire Firearms Coalition said House Bill 1749 from Dunbarton Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell is a top priority of the group that was a leading advocate for repeal of the permit needed to carry a concealed gun.

Former Republican congressional candidate Mike Hammond, legislative counsel for the national Gun Owners of America, has helped author the bill that would make the New Hampshire Legislature the exclusive authority in adopting any restrictions on gun use.

This comes in response to actions in several communities, including Milford, which last summer adopted an ordinance that outlawed target shooting in the area of the town-owned Brox property.

Firearms Coalition officer Alan Rice said this bill would add penalties for towns that ignore the state requirement.

“Florida’s pre-emption law was ignored for close to 25 years. Finally, in 2011, when the penalties were added, local officials started to follow state law,” Rice said. “ I have been credibly informed that the situation in Florida changed virtually overnight once the penalties were added to the pre-emption law. We need to do the same thing in New Hampshire.”

Last week, Milford selectmen said they objected to being “called out” in the proposed bill noting Weare, Merrimack, Londonderry and Dover had adopted their own restrictions.

At the last selectmen meeting, Rep. Joelle Martin, R-Milford, noted the bill could impose fines.

“Who could support a bill that could potentially fine” the town, she asked.

State Sen. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, is a selectman who defended the bill while saying the language needs some work.

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Rep. John Burt, who represents Goffstown, thinks there should be a state response to news the New Hampshire Union Leader broke over the weekend that $10 million in Goffstown and New Boston had not been applied to local property tax relief since 2011.

New Boston and Goffstown law enforcement said these are financial irregularities and not crimes worth investigating.

Business Administrator Raymond Labore handed in his resignation last week upon completion of the outside audit that uncovered these improper surpluses.

The final audit stressed there was no missing or improperly spent money found in this review.

Burt met with the Attorney General’s office Thursday.

”They are going to let me know hopefully in the morning on how to file papers for the NH AG’s office to look into this matter. If our local police will not look into this, I hope the Attorney General’s office will protect the taxpayers of this state,” Burt said.

“The school board said they may not return this money to the taxpayers. I believe the RSA says they have to. I have received many calls from Goffstown taxpayers on this matter. They are not happy.”

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The week before Christmas is always a bit quiet politically, but many New Hampshire politicos got a high profile in the national media this week.

• Sen. Hassan was prominently featured on “60 Minutes” Sunday for her work in fighting the marketing practices of the opioid drug makers;

• First Congressional District Republican candidate Eddie Edwards got some face time Tuesday on “Fox and Friends,” GOP primary rival Andy Sanborn of Bedford should ask for equal time; and,

• Former Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes on Wednesday was a special guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” talk show speaking about the need of national Democratic leaders to wake from a post-2016 election funk with an aggressive, winning strategy.

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Rep. Kuster has joined with a band of Democratic colleagues pursuing two laws to end the secrecy that surrounds workplace sexual harassment.

“Every worker deserves a respectful workplace,” said Kuster. “For too long, attempting to seek justice by coming forward about sexual harassment in the workplace has been outweighed by the repercussions employees faced and the threat to their careers. That’s changing with the watershed moment taking place in our nation and the collective voice of countless women and men in the #MeToo movement.”

Like many such crusades, reform could best start at home, as in Capitol Hill.

A new report shed light on settlements for sexual harassment and sex discrimination involving the U.S. House. A total of 15 cash buyouts involving House member offices from 2008-12 totaled $342,225.

Now there is word that from 2013 to 2016, there were six other settlements for workplace-related issues in the House, one a sex harassment case.

The data released Tuesday also shed light on settlements unrelated to sexual harassment and sex discrimination. All told, there were 15 settlements involving House member offices during the five-year period between 2008 and 2012, for a total of $342,225.

None of the details are public, even as a House committee seeks information on 264 settlements totaling $17 million of taxpayer money paid out for violations of the Congressional Accountability Act, a law that took effect in 1995.

David Solomon contributed to this report; Email news and tips to granitestatus@unionleader.


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