InDepthNH.org and Manchester Ink Link co-publish Garry Rayno’s Distant Dome
By GARRY RAYNO,
The architects of our government — our founding fathers — concocted a system to prevent one branch of government from dominating the other two.
The checks and balance system has worked well over the country’s nearly 250 years, including during the current president’s reign.
The judiciary told President Trump his proposed immigration ban was unconstitutional because it targeted one religion, and this week said his executive order to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration agents also ran afoul of the constitution because it requires local agencies to do the federal government’s work.
Congress defied Trump when he sought to fulfill his promise to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to stop illegal immigrants from entering this country and to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, although a new plan has surfaced this week.
Similarly the state Supreme Court told legislators and the executive branch its Claremont decision failed to provide a constitutionally guaranteed “adequate education” to every child in the state and used an unconstitutional system to pay for it.
Governors from Jeanne Shaheen to Craig Benson to John Lynch proposed constitutional amendments to remove the court’s jurisdiction over education funding, but every legislature to date refused to put the question on the ballot for voters to decide.
Governors have also been able to thwart legislative initiatives such as voting restrictions Republican legislatures approved several years ago through vetoes.
During the 2011-12 session when the GOP had 75 percent of the seats in the House and Senate, former Gov. John Lynch could not stop a “stand-your-ground” bill on the use of deadly force the legislature passed when his veto was overridden, but he successfully vetoed several right-to-work bills.
Ironically with a new Republican governor in the corner office — Chris Sununu — who supports right-to-work, the House put the brakes on Senate Bill 11, this year’s version of right-to-work legislation, and also told the Senate it would not deal with any similar bill for the remainder of the two-year term.
In recent sessions, the Republican controlled legislature has passed bills requiring that schools notify parents before students are exposed to sex education or if human sexuality will be included in course material only to be vetoed by Democratic governors.
Other vetoed bills included allowing parents to opt out of student surveys and testing, as well as limiting the state’s ability to require schools to use Common Core standards, have all gone through the legislature this year and will become law or are law with Sununu’s signature.
While the House and Senate agreed on these measures this year, often they are at odds on significant legislation with the pendulum swinging back and forth over the years over who is the more conservative or moderate.
For many years, the House has easily passed bills removing criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and even legalizing the drug, but the Senate has refused to go along listening to the state’s police chiefs’ counsel.
In years past, the Senate had former governors John Lynch’s and Maggie Hassan’s threatened vetoes to justify its position, but not this year.
Sununu said during the gubernatorial campaign he would support a decriminalization bill and most proponents believed this would finally be the year it would pass and New Hampshire would join the rest of New England, but the Senate has recently signaled that might not happen.
Several times the House approved bills to eliminate the state’s death penalty or capital punishment, but the Senate has refused to go along. As recently as last year, the Senate deadlocked 12-12, as it did two years earlier killing repeal.
In the 1990s the House and Senate approved repealing the law, but then governor Jeanne Shaheen vetoed it and the House failed to override.
The House has been a thorn in the side of the legions of expanded gambling apostles over the years. The Senate routinely approves casino gambling, but the House refuses to accede.
And then the next year casino gambling is resurrected with a little different touch and expanded incentives and the story is replayed with the same result: no casino gambling in New Hampshire even when governors Shaheen and Hassan pushed the concept.
The House has not been as enamored with business tax cuts or some would say give-aways as the Senate, which has passed a number of proposals during the last two sessions.
The House has gone along with reducing the rates of the business enterprise and business profits taxes, but not the full exemptions or credits approved by the Senate.
One year ago, the Senate approved expanding the deduction for a one-time capital expense from $25,000 a year to the federal limit of $500,000, but the House — with urging from Ways and Means Chairman Norm Major – believed that would lower revenues too much and reduced the deduction to $100,000.
A bitter battle ensued but the deduction was lowered.
The House and Senate have traded places being the moderating influence on education issues over the years.
Some of the more “reform-minded” proposals came from the Senate this year including the one bill that hugely upset the public education community.
Senate Bill 193 creates the “Education Freedom Savings Accounts,” which would allow parents who want to send their kids to private or religious schools or to home school their children to receive about 90 percent of what the students’ current school districts receive for per pupil aid —$3,636 — or approximately $3,300.
The money can be used for educational material or services such as tuition, tutoring, fees, textbooks, computers or transportation costs.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman John Reagan, R-Deerfield, would essentially create a school voucher program.
Public school officials say reducing the number of students in a school dose not necessarily reduce expenses. Just because one student leaves does not mean there will be any fewer teachers or staff, they contend.
The bill passed the Senate last month on a party line vote of 14-9, but the House Education Committee voted last week to retain the bill, which means it will not come to a vote until next year.
When committees retain bills they can work on them to make them better or do nothing, in which case a polite death occurs. In the case of a highly controversial bill like SB 193, it will have a much harder time passing during an election year when every House member is before voters.
In this case, a bipartisan majority of the House Education Committee puts the brakes on a controversial Senate bill.
Many people yearn to have one party or the other control both houses of the legislature and the executive branch, which is the case in Washington and in Concord for the next two years with Republicans in control.
The theory is with one-party rule, the majority can put its stamp on government by pushing through its agenda and voters will either agree or not.
But we can see how well that has worked in Washington and Concord this year,
The best legislation occurs when the majority party needs a few members of the minority party to pass a bill because that requires compromise.
For the past few sessions in Concord, Republican lawmakers had to contend with Democratic governors and that has the same effect. There has to be compromise for anything to be accomplished.
But these days, compromise is becoming a dirty word and that is why so little of consequence is achieved here and in Washington.
Garry Rayno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Garry Rayno’s Distant Dome runs exclusively on Manchester Ink Link and InDepthNH.org, where Rayno will explore a broader perspective on State House – and state – happenings. Over his three-decade career Rayno has closely covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat, and his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. He is former editor of The Hillsboro Messenger and Assistant Editor of The Argus-Champion. Rayno graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in English Literature and lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.