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October 06. 2012 7:47PM

Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Must reading for savvy voters ahead of Nov. 6


 

In years when lawmakers place proposed constitutional amendments on the general election ballot, the state is to produce an unbiased voter guide to explain what the changes would do.

In a little more than a month, voters will be faced with three ballot questions, two proposed constitutional amendments and whether a constitutional convention should be convened, something that hasn't happened since 1984.

The idea is to widely distribute the guides so people have an opportunity to read and review them before they enter their polling place.

The guides are sent to city and town clerks to distribute throughout their communities and are mailed along with absentee ballots.

This year, lawmakers are butting up against the deadline and hope to have them to city and town clerks by the middle of this week.

As in years past, the language for the guide undergoes a lengthy approval process. It is drafted, then the House and Senate committees that held hearings on the CACRs have to refine and ultimately approve the explanations. The work starts first with the committee that originally heard the CACR, such as House Ways and Means, and then to Senate Ways and Means before final approval comes from the Joint Legislative Facilities Committee.

Last week, the facilities committee signed off on the language for this year's guide for the three questions.

However, there were some “formatting issues” still outstanding Friday.

Until 1999, the secretary of state was responsible for printing voter guides, but since then, the Joint Legislative Facilities Committee has had the obligation.

Things do not always run smoothly.

In 2004, a judge ordered the guides rewritten because he determined the legislatively written explanation was biased, although expecting the Legislature that approved the question to be unbiased in explaining it may be a bit much to ask.

The 2004 issue involved court rules, as does one of the constitutional amendments this year. The 2004 amendment would have restored the Legislature's ability to write some court rules.

This year, voters will be asked to give lawmakers concurrent power to write court rules along with the Supreme Court, and if there is a conflict, the statute would prevail.

Sounds familiar. Both would essentially undue a 1978 constitutional amendment passed by voters giving the Supreme Court authority to write rules governing the administration of all the courts in the state and their practices and procedures.

In this year's voter guide, the explanation of the change reads: “The rule-making authority of the Supreme Court will remain in place.

“However, the Legislature will have concurrent power to regulate the administration of the courts, and further, if there is a conflict between a law and a court-established rule, the law prevails unless it is contrary to provisions of the Constitution.”

The other proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit the Legislature from enacting any new tax on personal income.

The explanation is it “Explicitly forbids the Legislature from imposing any new income tax on personal income.” This one is simple.

A two-thirds majority is necessary to approve any proposed constitutional amendment, but a simple majority is all that is needed to call a constitutional convention.

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MANAGED CARE STALLS AGAIN: The long-awaited start to the state's new managed health program for Medicaid patients has been put off again, according to a letter sent last week by state Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas.

The latest target date was Jan. 1, 2013, but Toumpas said the three managed care companies contracted to run the state program have been unable to reach agreements with the acute care hospitals, one of three essential elements to serve patients under their networks.

He notes that while the companies have reached agreements with the community mental health centers and the community health centers, contracts with the acute care hospitals have been elusive.

Toumpas' letter does note that he expects unconditional approval from the Center of Medicaid Services within a couple of weeks.

The center's slow approval earlier this year caused initial delays, but the center essentially approved the request at the end of August.

The managed care program was originally scheduled to start at the beginning of this fiscal year, July 1, then was pushed back until Oct. 1, then to Dec. 1, and finally Jan. 1, but now that is not feasible.

Lawmakers expected to save $16 million this fiscal year on the switch to managed care, but obviously those savings will not be met if the program doesn't begin until some time in the second half of the fiscal year.

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COMINGS AND GOINGS: Gov. John Lynch's press secretary, Colin Manning, will be moving on at the end of the month.

Manning, a Union Leader correspondent and Foster's Daily Democrat reporter before becoming Lynch's press secretary, is certainly landing on his feet.

He will take a job beginning Oct. 28 at Harvard University's public relations and communications department.

Manning's last day as Lynch's press secretary will be Oct. 26.

Meanwhile, Denis Parker, longtime State Employee Association executive director, was thoroughly enjoying his retirement until Rick Trombley, acting National Education Association-New Hampshire executive director, called to ask whether he would be interested in helping out during the coming session.

Parker, who also worked as a lobbyist, retired after the 2009 legislative session. As in the past two sessions, the state retirement system is bound to be a major area of concern for teachers, and Parker notes he has had lots of experience with that issue over the years.

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BRADLEY HONORED: Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley was recently honored by the New Hampshire Municipal Association for his leadership on public pension reform.

The group said it appreciated his “advocacy on behalf of cities and towns, by sponsoring and supporting legislation designed to address the financial impact of public sector pensions on property taxpayers statewide.”

Bradley was the prime sponsor of the 2011 bill reforming the retirement system that increased employee contributions, extended the length of service before retirement and changed the formula for calculating retirement benefits.

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HOMEBUILDERS HONOR LAWMAKERS: The Home Builders & Remodelers Association of New Hampshire recognized seven New Hampshire legislators at its annual installation banquet last week.

Honored were Sens. Bradley, David Boutin of Hooksett and Bob Odell of Lempster, and Reps. John Hunt of Rindge, Donna Schlachman of Exeter, Carol McGuire of Epsom and Andrew Renzullo of Hudson.

They received the awards for their advocacy on behalf of the home building and remodeling industry and all small businesses in the state.

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YEARS TO START: The Legislative Budget Assistant's Office's Audit Division is finally going to begin an audit that lawmakers requested.

About five years ago, the Joint Legislative Performance Audit and Oversight Committee asked for a performance audit of the Department of Revenue Administration to determine the amount of uncollected state taxes.

The audit has been on hold since the department refused to open its books to the Legislative Budget Assistant's Office, claiming the tax returns are confidential.

Lawmakers passed a law to open the books for the audit, but it still has not started.

Last week, audit supervisor Stephen Fox told the committee his agency is still waiting for the DRA to be ready for the audit. “They're behind schedule in uploading scanned documents, so it's doubtful we can start before December of maybe January.”

The committee chairman, Senate President Peter Bragdon, noted the committee had approved the scope of the audit some time ago, but it appears the delays are for valid reasons.

“Are they hindering our ability to audit, or are you just being nice to them?” Bragdon asked.

“Probably a little of both,” Fox replied.

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Garry Rayno may be reached at grayno@unionleader.com.


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