House Panel Nixes Refiling School Voucher Admin Bill Because of Merner’s Illegal Vote

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House Rules committee met Tuesday in the Legislative Office Building in Concord.


CONCORD – The House Rules Committee voted 5 to 4 along party lines Tuesday to deny state Rep. David Luneau’s request to refile legislation that would require the Department of Education to oversee the school voucher program rather than the private business that is paid to do so now.

Luneau, D-Hopkinton, asked to refile HB 626 that was voted Inexpedient to Legislate in the last session with the now former Republican Rep. Troy Werner voting even though he wasn’t qualified to vote or serve in the House because he had moved out of district from Lancaster to Carroll more than a year before.

The New Hampshire Constitution is clear that House members must live in the district they represent.

“It was recently revealed that Republican Rep. Troy Merner had been living outside his district for the entire term, illegally voting on hundreds of pieces of legislation over six months,” Luneau said after the vote.

House Rules bar legislation that was voted inexpedient to legislate in the first year from being introduced in the House in the second year of the session.

Of all the motions decided by zero or one vote margins this year, in which a Roll Call was taken, only one resulted in an ITL motion being adopted, HB 626.

House Rules do allow late introduction of legislation “based on urgent or compelling need or events unforeseen prior to the filing deadline,” if approved by a majority of the Rules Committee, which Luneau asked for at their meeting Tuesday but was turned down.

Proponents said HB 626 brought taxpayer accountability to the EFA school voucher program by moving administration to the state Department of Education.  Currently, the state spends millions of dollars a year – 10% of all EFA funds – to a private company to administer the program.

 Weber’s Request Approved

 The Rules Committee voted 8 to 1 Tuesday in favor of state Rep. Lucy Weber’s request to approve a Democratic proposal for the late-drafting of legislation related to communications between the Attorney General’s Office and the New Hampshire House when it comes to the domicile of House members.

Weber, a Walpole Democrat, noted that Attorney General John Formella sent a letter Sept. 18 to House Speaker Sherman Packard saying Merner was not living in Lancaster. That was after an investigation into a complaint six months earlier by a credible local official.

“For this reason, he should be ineligible to represent that district in the General Court,” Formella said in the letter to Packard. Packard then asked Merner to resign, which he did immediately.

By the time Packard received Formella’s letter it was too late to file proposed legislation without the Rules Committee permission.

“I would like to draft a bill requiring the attorney general notify the House as soon as they get confirmation that a member may not be living where they are supposed to,” Weber said.

Weber asked the same question others have been asking: “Why did the attorney general wait so long.”

She wants the attorney general to notify the House as soon as there is credible evidence and then it is up to the House to decide domicile matters.

Weber said that can be done without compromising any other investigation as Merner is also being investigated regarding voting in Lancaster where he was chairman of the board of selectmen. He resigned from the board as well and that probe is ongoing.

Last week former longtime Democratic lawmaker Peter Hoe Burling filed a right-to-know request with the Speaker’s office and the Attorney General’s Office to find out the timeline of who knew about Merner’s domicile issues and when they knew it.

Burling questioned why the Attorney General’s Office had a credible allegation about Merner’s move, but waited six months before notifying Speaker Packard, a Londonderry Republican, in a letter Sept. 18.

Burling suggested that if a similar question arises in the future, it be handled by a special outside investigation.

“My real sense of outrage is how is it when confronted with a verifiable complaint, a state Rep is voting in a district he was not qualified to vote in,” Burling said, adding the New Hampshire Constitution is clear that Merner was required to resign when he moved out of district and not run again for that seat.

Burling, a Democrat, served in the House for 14 years and the Senate for four.

After the meeting Tuesday, House Democratic Leader Rep. Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, said: “Upholding the Constitutional requirement to hold office is not a partisan issue. It is explicitly the responsibility of the New Hampshire House to judge the qualifications of its members. In the case of former Rep. Troy Merner, credible information relative to those qualifications was withheld for months after being obtained by law enforcement, enabling him to continue illegally voting on over 100 pieces of legislation. 

 “Introducing legislation to improve communication between the Attorney General’s Office and the General Court in situations where the domicile of a sitting member is in question is an important and timely response for the legislature to uphold our Constitutional responsibility. I thank my colleagues on the Rules Committee for their bipartisan vote today and look forward to continuing our work to ensure timely communication of information relative to House member qualifications,” Wilhelm said regarding Weber’s request.

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