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December 29. 2012 10:40PM

Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Expect a gun fight at the not-so-OK Cabal


 

If you envisioned a more civil and bipartisan House in 2013, you might want to look beyond Wednesday, the first day of the session.

Several contentious issues will be debated, including whether representatives should be prohibited from bringing a firearm into Representatives Hall and adjoining areas.

Two years ago, the House's first action under then-Speaker Bill O'Brien was to lift a 40-year ban prohibiting any guns on the House floor. With that vote, the new policy allowed members to have firearms with them, provided they were concealed.

This month, the House Rules Committee voted along party lines, 6-4, to reinstate the ban. Democrats said doing so would simply be a return to the way the House had operated for nearly half a century.

One of their assertions was that guns should not be present when fourth-graders visit the House Gallery. When youngsters are in the building, said House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, it is their classroom, and guns should not be part of that environment.

House Republican leader Gene Chandler, however, said his caucus is not convinced the change would improve safety. He also said the proposal's reference to "adjacent areas'' is ambiguous.

"Are you talking five feet, 10 feet or 20 feet," he said, adding that it could lead to enforcement problems, particularly if the Senate does not adopt a similar rule, which it is not expected to do.

Several gun-rights advocates in the House have promised a vigorous floor fight over the change. It's worth noting, however, that the committee did not seek to change a provision that would forbid the searching of House members, which would essentially makes the prohibition subject to the honor system.

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BUDGET WORK: House and Senate budget writers are not wasting time as they face a very challenging task: putting together a balanced, two-year spending plan in the face of slow growth in revenues and a surge in spending requests.

Work on the fiscal years 2014 and 2015 operating budget begins this week, with House Finance and Ways and Means committees meeting Wednesday after the House session.

The Senate Finance and Ways and Means committees will meet Jan. 8 for briefings by the legislative budget assistant and the Department of Revenue Administration.

The same day, the House Ways and Means Committee begins two days of briefings by public and private economic folks.

The House and Senate budget committees will meet Jan. 7 to hear presentations by representatives of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the legislative budget assistant, the N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies, UNH's Carsey Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan this month told department heads to pare their requests for the next two years. The total increase in all state government spending would be about 19 percent under budget plans devised by department heads.

Revenue growth is not expected to reach 3 percent during the next fiscal year.

There are also some tax reductions enacted this year through business tax changes that will further reduce revenues, and several settlements involving the DHHS will cost the state tens of millions of dollars in the upcoming budget.

It is not a pretty picture.

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MIXED SEATING: When the House convenes Wednesday, there will be no more segregation: Republicans and Democrats will be seated next to each other.

Republicans and Democrats have generally sat in their own sections, with Section 5 for the bad boys and girls of both parties. Well, not really, but that's the way it often worked out. House Speaker Terie Norelli decided to end all that.

"The November election sent a clear message from citizens that they have grown weary from the lack of cooperation in government. I believe that mixing Democrats and Republicans on the House floor is a change that will foster a spirit of cooperation among members regardless of party affiliation," Norelli said Friday. "It is my hope that, as we face difficult decisions over the next two years, we will find common ground and compromise for solutions to these challenges. Getting to know one's seatmate is another step toward bipartisan dialogue."

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


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