ANYONE WHO Thought the 2022 legislative session was going to be short and sleepy got a reality bucket of cold water Friday.
The session for House members to initially file bills began Monday and ended five days later.
This was one of the shortest periods in recent memory.
House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, and his team hoped this brief window would limit how many bills they would face next year.
By noon Friday, 565 measures had been offered.
A quick review revealed there is no shortage of hot-button issues from abortion rights, guns and paid family leave to tax cuts and school choice.
There are 15 proposals to deal with vaccinations, nine on other COVID-19 topics, and still eight more over the power of governors and state agency heads who deal with future states of emergency.
Packard proposed his own bill to block state and local law enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine mandates that President Biden announced earlier this month.
The two-week filing period for state senators begins Oct. 13.
You can bet legislative leaders will face many requests of lawmakers in early January who want to bring in proposals they couldn’t get done in time to meet these tight deadlines.
Strap yourselves in; the 2022 meeting of the New Hampshire General Court promises to be a very bumpy ride.
Police reform talks
Leaders in law enforcement, politics, criminal defense and civil liberty communities have spent more than a year trying to find common ground over a new system that would independently investigate allegations of police misconduct.
A breakthrough in that stalemate emerged at the State House last week.
There’s still a lot of horse trading and legislative wordsmithing left to complete but after months this issue, which seemed dead on arrival, finally has a pulse.
Police Standards and Training Council (PSTC) Director John Scippa moved the needle Thursday when he brought up what Vermont created in 2004, a State Police Advisory Commission that reviews the results of all internal investigations of its 300 state troopers.
The commission is asked to sustain or take issue with every decision state police executives made in a trooper discipline case.
The seven-person group is politically appointed, and none is a current law enforcement officer.
In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder last year, the Vermont group released last January, for the first time, a detailed summary of its internal investigations.
The report didn’t identify troopers by name, but described the conduct that resulted in reprimands or other punishments.
Until last week, the criminal defense bar, American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and other citizen groups were pushing for a new independent state agency to hear police misconduct complaints.
Manchester defense lawyer Julian Jefferson said Thursday that if properly set up and given full autonomy, a New Hampshire complaint board could be housed either in the state PSTC or the New Hampshire Office of Professional Licensing and Certification (OPLC).
“I am certainly open to that,” Jefferson said, and ACLU organizer Joseph Lascaze echoed that sentiment.
Jefferson said a N.H. state board should have law enforcement members because it would lead to even more public confidence in any decisions.
Attorney General and Commission Chairman John Formella gave the group its next marching orders, to hear from representatives of the Vermont program along with Lindsey Courtney, executive director of the OPLC.
“I just looked at what Vermont has done, and it seemed to deal with all of the issues we’ve been looking at these many months,” Scippa said after the meeting. “The key is using their template as a start and making sure what we would end up doing really fits New Hampshire.”
Party switch goes viral
The decision of three-term state Rep. Bill Marsh, R-Brookfield, to change his party affiliation to Democrat went viral across the country last week.
We first reported on social media Marsh’s decision, which was in response to the House Republican press conference Tuesday that attacked the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates.
This decision of the retired ophthalmologist became a trending sensation on Twitter with stories in multiple national media outlets including the Washington Post and MSNBC.
During an interview, Marsh said the reaction he got was “overwhelmingly positive,” but stressed that wasn’t his intent.
“This isn’t a change in my ideology. Personally I would like a more moderate party,” Marsh said. “The Democrats have gone too far to the left, and the Republicans have gone too far to the right. I don’t think either of those positions resonates well with the voters of New Hampshire.”
The party switch meant Marsh is, at the moment, a lawmaker without a State House portfolio since Speaker Packard naturally took him off the House Election Laws Committee.
We detailed last July that Packard had removed Marsh as a committee vice chairman after Marsh spoke on the House against a floor amendment that had the GOP leadership’s support.
House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton will no doubt soon ask Packard to name Marsh to fill a Democratic seat on a House committee.
What’s in Marsh’s political future?
Lakes Region GOP partisans have long viewed him and the more conservative State Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, as obvious favorites to replace Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, when Bradley decides it’s time to do even more mountain hiking and less politicking.
Marsh said he’s not thinking about that right now.
“I am one of those people who lives in the moment; this is 2021, and while my party affiliation has changed, who knows what the next year plus will bring,” Marsh said.
Sununu: Family backs run
Gov. Chris Sununu admits his bleeding ulcer has set him back a bit.
“It is going to be a couple of months, on the mend today, but feeling good,” Sununu said, admitting he recently could only mow part of his Newfields lawn before he got winded and had to stop.
Sununu chose to introduce his family’s thinking about his political future during an interview on the “Good Morning New Hampshire” radio talk show with Jack Heath Thursday.
The governor said his wife and their three kids are 100 percent behind whatever he chooses to do in 2022, run for the U.S. Senate, run again for governor or ride off into the private sector.
“It’s really up to me,” Sununu said.
Any seasoned political observer would interpret those comments as raising the likelihood that a Senate run is a go.Chris Sununu came out from his father’s shadow a long time ago.
But the political and marital partnership he has bears a striking resemblance to the one that marked the lives of John H. and Nancy Sununu, who earlier this month celebrated their 63rd anniversary.
If First Lady Valerie Sununu wasn’t in favor of Chris deciding to pursue a political career in Washington, a Senate run would be out.
Judd Gregg, Maggie Hassan, Jeanne Shaheen and John E. Sununu have all shared very similar experiences; without the support of Kathy Gregg, Tom Hassan, Billy Shaheen and Catherine Sununu, respectively, their Senate careers may never have been launched.
His illness and his family views, however, don’t change the timetable.
Sununu remains in no hurry and feels no pressure to make a final decision.
Family planning vote
The Executive Council decision to reject family planning contracts for Planned Parenthood and two other abortion clinics only raises abortion rights as an even bigger issue in 2022.
But it shouldn’t have stunned anyone.
All four Republican members of the Executive Council had voting records or made public statements in the 2020 campaign against Planned Parenthood contracts.
So while Sununu was plenty critical of the decision, he knew it wasn’t worth wasting political capital trying to change anyone’s mind.
“I was hopeful, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t really surprised,” Sununu said. “I don’t think the governor twisting arms... both publicly and behind the scenes was going to make a difference; it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Sununu has to hope Planned Parenthood decides to do what it did in 2015.
At that time, Planned Parenthood kept providing family planning services without these contracts for nearly a year until then-Councilor Sununu voted along with a majority to approve them.
Wheeler lauds workers
Councilor Dave Wheeler, R-Milford, didn’t choose St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua by accident to host his road show council meeting last Wednesday.
Wheeler used the venue to give a thanks to those on the front lines who helped him deal with his own family’s health.
St. Joe’s was where Wheeler went with severe chest pains last February that ultimately led to successful heart bypass surgery at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.
Wheeler gave a proclamation to Christian Cerino, a nutrition and exercise specialist, who has helped the councilor change his diet and lifestyle.
Then there was one for Paula Terry, a 25-year nurse and charge supervisor, who Wheeler said “saved my mother’s life.”
Emma Wheeler, a longtime state rep who was her own force in conservative GOP politics, has since passed away.
A third proclamation honored diagnostic experts at St. Joe’s, given to MaryAnne Montcrief, who has spent more than 30 years in the hospital’s nuclear medicine department.
Laconia property sale
Administrative Services Commissioner Charles Arlinghaus has the heavy lift of trying to carry out Sununu’s desire to sell for private development the former Laconia State School parcel.
Last week, Arlinghaus hosted an extensive meeting with the representatives of 35 towns who depend on the property since it houses one of the state’s three 911 call centers plus mutual aid communication for the entire region.
“It was my message on behalf of the state that we don’t want to do anything out from under you,” Arlinghaus said.
Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn said the building is 60 years old, and talks are ongoing about finding a better, state-of-the-art location.
“They want to make sure public safety is not interrupted,” Quinn said. “I think if we continue to work with them as great partners, we can find common ground.”
The last four New Hampshire governors have tried without success to craft a permanent future for this property.
Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, has been closely involved in these Laconia redevelopment talks for more than two decades.
“The last estimate we had was it might cost a developer up to $17 million to get the property even ready to be reused,” Kenney said.
“I give the governor credit for trying to move this process along. If if it were easy, however, it would have happened a long time ago.”
Gardner embraces audits
Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, is heading up a study committee on how to conduct post-election audits of state elections.
It got off to a promising start last week when Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said his boss, Bill Gardner, supports the concept as long as it does not interfere in the process of recounting ballots.
The plan would have the state conduct the audit of a randomly-selected number of ballots cast in the state to help boost voter confidence in the outcome.
Gardner’s team has already seen vendors show their wares, using high-speed digital software that can rapidly process the ballots and come up with a revised count.
Ideally, Scanlan said these audits should be done the day after the Tuesday election.
That’s because candidates only have until the following Friday at 5 p.m. to seek a recount of that election.
Gray said he supports letting any candidates also have the right to seek their own recount if this digital audit revealed an “anomaly” between the outcome reported on Election Night.