LEGISLATIVE Ethics Committee Chairman and State Rep. Ned Gordon, R-Bristol, convinced the House Rules Committee early last week to allow him to introduce changes in the conflicts-of-interest policy for lawmakers.
The need for this measure arose from the ethics probe into allegations that House Majority Leader Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey, violated ethics guidelines by taking part in union-related issues while holding the post as staff head of the American Federation of Teachers in New Hampshire.
The panel decided to issue an “informal resolution” in part because the committee concluded there was no bright line for lawmakers to follow when it comes to recusing or disqualifying themselves on pending legislation.
“This has been a very difficult issue for us to deal with and it’s because if you were to read the ethics guidelines there is nothing in there that mentions one word of recusal,” Gordon said.
Gordon, a retired circuit court judge, noted the founders were concerned about this as they wrote Part 2, Article 7 of the state constitution, which calls for the removal of a legislator who if that person “takes fees counsel or acts as an advocate” while in the course of their duties.
The rules panel unanimously voted to allow this bill to be taken up in 2020.
State aid glitch fix sought
State Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, is proposing a legislative change to give school districts money for start-up costs when they offer full-day kindergarten.
Under the education aid law as it’s now written, districts get kindergarten aid based on their enrollment two years earlier.
Thus when district administrators bite the tax bullet of going to full-day kindergarten, they don’t get that extra money until after the program is up and running.
In the next year, the districts that would benefit from this would be Chester, Windham and Salem, Luneau said.
Fewer bills, shorter session
The New Hampshire House of Representatives will vote in January on a proposed schedule for the 2020 meet that will be a few weeks shorter than in 2019.
House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, said the shorter session is possible because there have been fewer bills proposed.
There are currently 800 legislative service requests for bills in the hopper and that number typically goes down a bit as legislative leaders convince lawmakers to combine their their efforts or pursue policies through means other than legislation.
Shurtleff said he’s urging committee chairs to get their work done early on in the session. This would allow, if possible, for their members to have the week off at the end of February that coincides with vacation for most public schools in the state.
Another look at vape tax
The two-year state budget deal signed into law expanded the tobacco tax for the first time to include a tax on e-cigarettes and other vaping products.
Much to the chagrin of the anti-smoking lobby, however, the tax rate in the final deal was low, 8% on the wholesale price of the liquid in vaping products and 30% on so-called “closed” vaping products, such as those marketed by Juul.
“We had hoped the rate would be much higher,” said Mike Rollo, lobbyist for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in the state.
State Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, will be authoring legislation to raise that rate, adding that he and House Ways and Means Chairman Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, are still working out the details.
“Our feeling was that tax was inappropriate compared to what is happening around us. Mass. House adopted a 75 percent wholesale price, Vermont is at 92 percent, Maine is at 40 percent,” Ames said. “To us, 8 percent seems to be askew.”
The same budget deal also contains a new licensing requirement for all retail stores that sell vape products.
But Ames said State Liquor Commission members have argued the $6 licensing fee in the law charged to retailers doesn’t begin to cover those licensing costs, so he’s working on another bill that would raise that fee.
Revolving door open
There is no mandatory waiting period for former legislators before they become lobbyists in New Hampshire.
Most who make this move sit out at least a year before taking up the new role before their former colleagues.
Over the past few weeks, two prominent law firms have hired three ex-state senators to represent them next year.
The firm led by ex-State Rep. James Demers is bringing on two: former Nashua Democratic Sen. Bette Lasky and ex-Hampton Republican Nancy Stiles.
Demers needed to staff up with the departure of his longtime partner, Robert Blaisdell.
The third ex-senator is former Hollis Democratic Sen. Peggy Gilmour, who is joining the Preti Flaherty lobbying firm that has already been led by two other ex-senators, Laconia Democrat Andrew Hosmer and ex-Senate President and Milford Republican Peter Bragdon.