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December 31. 2011 9:15PM

Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Lawmakers expect heat in January


 

OUT OF THE GATE: The House begins Wednesday with the first of at least four long session days this month to deal with about 150 bills. Some will be put off until later this session, including the repeal of the gay marriage act.

On Tuesday, the House Republican Office will hold a news conference to tout its accomplishments during its first year in power and look forward to the upcoming session.

Much of the discussion about the past year is expected to be about jobs, the economy, balancing the budget and making the state more business friendly.

And looking forward, the priorities are expected to be jobs, the economy and growing business, and maybe a constitutional amendment on education funding.

Not a lot of change there and little mention of the hot-button issues that may well dominate this session now that the budget has been put to bed.

That situation is not unlike others during the second year of the legislative term, as each side wants to put the other on record going into an election year.

Many proposed bills will garner a great deal of attention, from doing away with the Department of Education to prohibiting the court from writing new rules until they have been approved by lawmakers.

Another bill would prohibit public employees from engaging in collective bargaining, and another would make it a Class B felony if the attorney general of county attorney failed to prosecute a government official who falsified documents.

Other bills would charge a person with murder for ending the life of an unborn child and require schools to teach evolution as theory instead of fact.

And there is a bill to pay lawmakers mileage when they serve as members of the county delegation, and another to eliminate the Merrimack tolls on the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

Still others would prevent political party employees from running for state office, and several lawmakers want to return to biennial sessions instead of meeting every year.

The leadership of both the House and the Senate may want to focus on jobs and the economy, taxes and spending and ending regulations, but the members have different ideas about what is important back home.

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BAD FOR REPUBLICANS: The bill to repeal the state’s gay marriage law is not among the hundreds of bills House members will have to act on this month, but you wouldn’t know that from the full-court press that began last week.

Non-legislators, too, weighed in early on the subject. The new Roman Catholic bishop of New Hampshire, Peter A. Libasci, urged lawmakers to repeal the gay marriage law, and on the other side of the issue, a political action committee was formed to help Republican candidates who support the current law.

The effort to defeat the repeal is clearly aimed at Republican lawmakers who will be the difference between sustaining or overriding Gov. John Lynch’s promised veto if House Bill 437, the repeal legislation, makes its way to his desk.

A new poll done by Voter Consumer Research Inc.’s Jan van Lohuizen, who was former President George W. Bush’s pollster for both of his presidential campaigns, will be released Wednesday at a legislative breakfast sponsored by Standing up for New Hampshire Families.

The results of the poll of 712 likely New Hampshire voters show an overwhelming majority of Democrats and solid majority of independent voters believe strongly the law should remain in effect.

According to van Lohuizen, “Any legislator needing to attract independent and/or Democratic voters would be giving their opponent a message (to use) against them” in the general election.

The poll found New Hampshire voters want elected officials to focus on jobs and the economy, taxes and spending, and education, with little interest in the social issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

Republican primary voters are split on the issue of gay marriage, with 47 percent in support of repeal and 47 percent in support of leaving it in place, according to the poll, which reflects similar findings to the Granite State Poll done by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Pollsters found a vote for repeal would do little to sway Republican primary voters, who particularly want lawmakers to focus on fiscal issues.

Pollsters said the strategy should be clear: “Focus on issues that are important to voters today, taxes, government spending, the economy and jobs. Don’t spend a lot of time on issues voters aren’t interested in today that will make you seem out of touch, like traditional social issues that also run the risk of looking like the candidate is ignoring the economic concerns of the day.”

Also last week, Standing Up of New Hampshire Families announced the formation of a political action committee (PAC) to support Republican candidates who support the current law and oppose repeal. The PAC is called New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality.

Sean Owen, CEO of wdu and Printer’s Square in Manchester, is the PAC chairman. The group hopes to raise at least $100,000 to support individual candidates and make independent expenditures in key races.

“We cannot sit by and allow the freedom to marry in New Hampshire to be hijacked by a few,” added Owen. “The truth is there are many Republicans who strongly believe that any attempt to reverse or undermine the freedom to marry law is the wrong move. Those determined to roll back the freedom to marry want legislators to overlook the fact that 62 percent of voters reject repeal, including the plurality of GOP primary voters.”

Standing Up is also running television and radio ads opposing the repeal of the gay marriage law.

Groups supporting repeal, such as the National Organization for Marriage, are expected to gear up with campaigns of their own.

Last week, Bishop Libasci said the gay marriage law should be repealed. He also called for strengthening family life and marriage and said, “We can feel the unintended but very real consequences of the chaos that has our homes so fractured.”

The repeal is expected to pass the House and probably the Senate, but not with enough votes to override Lynch’s veto.

The current proposal has some issues that may be addressed before it goes to the governor. For example, the bill would not grandfather the more than 18,700 same-sex couples who married under the current law.

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COMING BACK: Last year, lawmakers voted to send $666,000 in federal money back to Washington after the Executive Council turned down the money intended to help the state set up insurance exchanges under the federal health care reform act.

Last month, the Executive Council turned down $333,000 in federal money for a study to help lawmakers decide how they would set up the state’s insurance exchange.

On Tuesday, Rep. Dan Itse, R-Fremont, will ask the House Rules Committee to allow him to introduce a bill after the deadline to again return the money to the feds. The first time, lawmakers directed Washington to use the money to reduce the deficit.

House Judicial Committee Chairman Robert Rowe, R-Amherst, will ask the rules committee to let him introduce a bill to clarify conflict-of-interest issues in the new circuit court system.

Special justices work part time and are also members of law firms. Under the old system, members of the firm did not represent clients in the district court where their law partner presided.

But with the new county circuit court system — which includes district, probate and family courts — the special district division justice’s law firm is now prohibited from appearing before all the courts in the county circuit.

The new rules led to the resignation of at least one special justice.

Rowe’s bill would clarify the situation to allow the special justice’s law partners to appear in the courts where he or she is not sitting.

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OLD IS NEW AGAIN: A longtime Concord lobbying firm will have a new name this year.

What has been the Demers Group, whose clients include gaming interests, trial lawyers, financial institutions, drug manufacturers, health care facilities and telecoms, will now be Demers and Blaisdell.

Robert Blaisdell, the grandson of longtime Keene Senate Clesson “Junie” Blaisdell, is now a partner with Jim Demers.

Blaisdell will serve as the senior vice president of the firm.

Garry Rayno writes State House Dome weekly for New Hampshire Sunday News. E-mail him at grayno@unionleader.com.


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