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Tom Fahey's State House Dome: Right-to-work veto targeted

Tom Fahey
State House Bureau Chief

May 21. 2011 10:46PM

There may be other bills pending, but right-to-work is the biggest piece of business on the agenda this week.

Speaker of the House William O'Brien's decision to move quickly on Gov. John Lynch's veto of House Bill 474 has people on both sides of the issue under pressure.

Democrats and unions are fighting hard to keep people in line to back the veto. Republicans and conservatives are trying to pull enough votes over to their side. By O'Brien's reckoning, he needs to persuade about 15 people to reach the two-thirds majority it would take to override the veto.

Those Republicans who won't come along are being asked to 'take a walk' when the vote is taken. The more lawmakers who wander away during the vote, the fewer votes O'Brien needs to get to two-thirds.

Tuesday brought a new factor into the debate. Democrat Jennifer Daler defeated Peter Kucmas of New Boston in a special House election. Daler swept all five towns in the district, including O'Brien's hometown of Mont Vernon.

Daler said early Wednesday she wanted to be sworn into office this Wednesday in time to vote on the veto override. Gov. Lynch said he'll be happy to oblige. That makes two extra votes O'Brien will need to offset her.


Daler's nearly 60-40 ratio of victory in O'Brien's back yard also gave pause to more moderate lawmakers, not only in the House but also those in the Senate.

Sen. Jim Luther and Sen. Gary Lambert, both of Nashua, said they felt voters were sending a message to throttle back on extraneous issues and focus on taxes and the economy.

'We've had a lot of discussion about it,' Luther said. 'You've got to have the sense that something is going on out there. And right in Bill O'Brien's back yard? That's an issue.'

On Wednesday, the Senate opted to table a series of bills they considered House distractions, such as resolutions concerning the United Nations, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the constitutionality of federal grants and U.S. treaties.


The conflict problem at the Redress of Grievance Committee grows more interesting with each telling.

Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ingbretson, R-Pike, belatedly recused himself from a grievance petition hearing last week after weathering criticism for not revealing he had provided a year of supervised child visitations for petitioner David Johnson of Londonderry.

On Thursday, a video surfaced showing Ingbretson conducting an unofficial hearing in June 2009 on a similar petition by Johnson. The hearing went over the same basic ground the Redress Committee heard.

Speaker O'Brien, who cleared Ingbretson of any conflict of interest, is seen sitting beside Ingbretson, flanked by current House chief of staff Bob Mead. The video closes with O'Brien remarking about the case, wondering whether the state should establish an appellate division of the state's Family Court system.

Ingbretson said last week he sees no problem in having heard the Johnson case before. He plans to chair hearings on other petitions he's already heard, too, including several from Rep. Peter Silva of Nashua.

'The fact that I have prior knowledge of a bill coming to a committee doesn't necessarily put me into a conflict. If someone can explain to me why I should step aside, I'll be happy to listen,' he said.

In the Johnson case, Ingbretson said, 'I walked away not because of prior knowledge but because I was actually helping him.'

Although he told other lawmakers after the 2009 hearing, 'We're going to deliberate on this,' he said Thursday he doesn't recall that ever happening.

Democrats continued on the offense over the matter.

'Ingbretson, O'Brien and Mead have all known David Johnson for two years or more,' party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said. 'This whole circus could have been avoided if they had said so at the start of this fiasco.'


The Senate budget team goes back into action Monday with some serious decisions ahead.

The University System hopes to restore some of the $80 million cut the House made in its funding. Hospitals hope to recover a good piece of $115 million in payments for charity care that the House cut. Community colleges would like to undo $11 million in House cuts.

Funding for developmentally disabled people was cut by $20 million in the House. The Senate restored much of that, but hasn't assured funding for those on a wait list for services.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse cautioned Friday that even with a presumption that revenues would give him $41 million worth of breathing space, he's not inclined to spend all that even as he faces these four major challenges.

The House cut its revenue estimates by $40 million Wednesday. That prompted speculation that the House and the Senate are on a path to simply agree in the middle on the budget bill and avoid a dragged out committee of conference. House Bill 2, loaded with changes in the way government operates, including the collective bargaining process, is another matter.


The Senate has a different view of how to run the Board of Tax and Land Appeals: Add politics to it.

Sen. Jeanie Forrester won her effort to have the Governor and Executive Council appoint the BTLA board, returning to a process that ended decades ago. That's when the effort to get politics out of the quasi-judicial board gave appointing power to the Supreme Court.

Forrester represents a district rich in mountain and lake properties, where the so-called 'view tax' is an especially touchy topic.


The Local Government Center has lost a round in its effort to upend Gov. Lynch's cut to the state's share of local retirement contributions. In 2009, he cut the state share from 35 percent to first 30, then 25 percent. Now he wants to eliminate it entirely.

LGC said the change amounts to an unfunded mandate, clearly unconstitutional under Part 1, Article 28-a.

Merrimack County Superior Court Justice Richard McNamara last week disagreed and rejected the lawsuit. He said the change is a new development, but not a new responsibility.

'No new mandate has been imposed since cities and towns have been historically responsible for at least part of the cost of employee retirement benefits, both before and after enactment of Pt. 1, Art 28-a,' he wrote.

With $500,000 to pay for the lawsuit and a constitutional issue involved, expect this case to get to state Supreme Court before it's over.


Things got a bit confused as the House and Senate danced around a bill to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The House insists the only acceptable bill is one that repeals the entire program, a 10-state cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions.

The Senate amended the House's bill to scale back RGGI but leave it in effect.

As its next chess move, the House Finance Committee last week voted to stick its RGGI repeal bill on the Senate's rewrite of the comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act. That will give it a place to negotiate for full RGGI repeal in a committee of conference.

But when it voted, Finance stuck the Senate bill onto the shoreland bill. When it was brought to his attention later that day, Rep. Neal Kurk did some running around to get to the bottom of the problem.

He said later the intent of the committee was clearly to add the House bill and that everyone understood what they meant to do. He started arranging to make sure the House calendar reflects that next week.

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