THE STATE APPROVED nine contracts totaling $145 million to expand behavioral health residential treatment services for New Hampshire children.

This means the state no longer will have to send so many of these residents outside New Hampshire for care.

Kevin Landrigan Dome

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette brought the contracts to the Executive Council for approval in response to Gov. Chris Sununu’s call to improve the delivery of care in response to a judge’s order.

“This represents another step in our work to rebuild New Hampshire’s mental health system, and to ensure Granite Staters, especially children and youth, have access to appropriate behavioral health services within our state,” Sununu said.

“DHHS continues to advance these critical services by breaking down silos and building a comprehensive, integrated and evidence-based system that works for our children and families.”

Other contracts to complete this network will come to the council in the coming weeks, officials said.

AOC wants Breyer out

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said he’s in no hurry to set a timetable for retiring.

Breyer, 83, gave an interview to CNN last week from his vacation home in Plainfield.

With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer is now the senior member of the liberal wing on the court that’s outnumbered, 6-3.

Breyer said his new seniority in the justices’ private discussion over cases “has made a difference to me... It is not a fight. It is not sarcasm. It is deliberation.”

Meanwhile, many liberal activists, including New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have said Breyer should step aside so that President Joe Biden may name a younger replacement.

No big vacation plans

Sununu said he has no plans to take a whole week of vacation this summer.

“I’m going to do a day here or there, at the beginning or end of the week,” Sununu said. “That’s enough for me.”

“I really enjoy the summer as an opportunity for me to get out more across the state to visit businesses and local officials.”

As for COVID-19, Sununu said total cases appear to be under control and hospitalizations continue to decline.

The number of cases in Coos County became “substantial,” but that was because it only takes a dozen or so cases to move the needle up there, he said. State officials have said an outbreak in a child-care setting was the cause of the blip. Sununu said no evidence existed that COVID-19 cases had gone up because of visiting tourists.

However, the governor said he expected the state will see an uptick in cases in November, after people come back indoors.

Aide named to state job

Many see movement in Sununu’s staff as a sign this could be his last term in office.

Last week, he nominated another longtime aide, Christopher J. Ellms Jr., to be the next deputy commissioner in the Department of Energy.

Ellms has worked for Sununu and his campaigns since 2014, two years before Sununu became governor. For the past three years, he has been the governor’s legislative director.

If confirmed as expected, Ellms will earn $91,000 a year and have a four-year term.

This continues a trend. Former office lawyer John Formella became attorney general, policy director D.J Bettencourt became deputy commissioner of insurance, and strategic initiatives director Jared Chicoine became acting energy commissioner.

New No. 2 at DOT

Transportation Commissioner Victoria Sheehan thinks she’s found the person to replace deputy Chris Waszczuk, who retired last March after 36 years with the agency.

He’s Andre Briere of Oak Bridge, Ill., who has been chief operating officer of Defend Edge, a defense consulting firm.

An Air Force career veteran, Briere served as the U.S. Defense and Air attaché to Russia.

He would be paid $114,000 a year and serve in a term that runs until October 2024.

Dems pounce on audit

As expected, the final report on the forensic audit of Windham’s election blamed the ballot count discrepancy on the automated voting machines’ failure to accurately record absentee ballots with improper fold impressions on them.

The 126-page report made several recommendations, including one that House Democrats tried to advance during the 2021 session.

The machine interpreted the folds in the ballots as votes marked for Democratic candidate Kristi St. Laurent.

Since the voter already had filled in a vote for four House candidates from Windham, the machine discounted the ballot as an illegal “over vote.”

State Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough, had proposed a remedy (HB 491) that would require local officials to contact that voter to give them a chance to “fix” their over vote.

The House Election Laws Committee voted, 11-9, along party lines to kill the measure.

“Ballots are rejected now, usually because of feed or fold issues, and voters are instructed to try again,” said Rep. Peter Torosian, R-Atkinson, in arguing against it.

“No one else examines or touches the ballot. There is no way to know that the ballot was rejected for over-voting unless it is examined by an election official, destroying the sanctity of the privacy of a vote.”

Rep. Connie Lane, D-Concord, said this bill was an attempt to make sure everyone’s vote counts.

“This bill would ensure that as many ballots as possible are included in the final count by the moderator and would address the problem where voters are mistakenly disenfranchised by the machine reading stray marks,” Lane said.

“This bill does not create a special class of voters.”

A weird postscript to this issue: The House never voted on it.

It was printed in the House calendar to be acted on April 8, but there’s no record that it ever was.

Ballot panel to meet twice

Ballot Law Commission Chairman Brad Cook has called for the group to meet twice this month, on July 26 and 28 at the State Archives Building in Concord.

The first session will spent reviewing the election law work of the Legislature and hearing a report on the progress on redistricting from Special Committee Chairman Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown.

The only item on the agenda for the second session is a review of the Windham audit report.

Ed reforms proceed

The state Board of Education met twice last week to advance reform measures.

Members approved three new “Learn Everywhere” programs, which allow students to get course credit for schooling outside traditional classrooms.

The second meeting was to approve interim rules for Education Freedom Accounts, which will give scholarships to income-eligible families that send their children to alternative public, private, religious or charter schools.

The content of this bill (SB 130) was contained in the massive trailer bill (HB 2) to the state budget.

Sununu veto urged

Leaders of independent and online industries are calling on Sununu to veto legislation that would subject them to the state’s room and meals tax (HB 15).

Brick-and-mortar businesses that rent cars or book overnight stays have been pushing several years for the state to make their online competitors subject to this tax.

“At a time of economic fragility in our communities, raising taxes and prices for families’ eager to travel is the last thing we all need,” said Bobbie Singh-Allen, executive director of the Independent Lodging Industry Association.

Last year, Sununu vetoed the bill, which was part of an omnibus measure that included other items he found objectionable.

What makes this one tricky for Sununu is its sponsor — House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry.

For three years, Packard has been pursuing this one.

The measure passed the Legislature comfortably, but seven Senate Republicans opposed it, including Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Senate Finance Chairman Gary Daniels, R-Milford.

Their opposition, no doubt, was girded by critics’ contention that the measure was a “new tax.”

To this point in 2021, Sununu has remained silent on the topic.

House renovation project

Now that the regular business of the 2021 session is over, it’s time for regular maintenance.

As part of long-overdue renovation work, Representatives Hall, the New Hampshire House’s historic chamber, will be painted this summer.

All the paintings on the wall have been boxed and taken down, along with the suspended chandeliers.

The chamber’s 400 seats have been covered so that they don’t get paint on them.

View photos of the ongoing work on the House’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Council goes on road

Every summer the Executive Council gets out of the sweltering State House and gives its five members an opportunity to host meetings in their districts.

Last week was Councilor Joe Kenney’s turn. The Wakefield Republican chose to meet at Cannon Mountain in Franconia.

On Aug. 4, the council will head to the Keene Public Library, where Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, will be the host.

Kevin Landrigan is the State House bureau chief for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at klandrigan@unionleader.com.