Cook on Concord



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Gov. John Lynch’s new style of leadership has been in evidence and often been the subject of comment in this column and elsewhere. A striking example of the governor’s style and personal involvement was his presentation of one of the principal proposals of his new administration. On Feb. 23, the House Education Committee heard House Bill 100, Governor Lynch’s targeted aid school-funding proposal. Before TV cameras and many members of the press, the freshman governor presented the plan and calmly described its components in detail for almost an hour. Members of the committee probed the rationale for the plan, whether it had the right elements and how it would affect education and different communities. Throughout, the governor remained composed, sure of himself and knowledgeable about his proposal. He did not rise to the bait when questions suggested he was rewarding Democratic towns and cities at the expense of Republican ones. Those observing the governor could not help but compare his performance with that of prior governors, who generally would sweep into a hearing room, read a prepared statement and then leave the answering of questions to sponsors or staff. In the memory of most longtime observers, Lynch set a new standard of involvement and knowledge and staked out ground as an architect of policy who had “kicked the tires” of his plan before sending it along to legislators. Regardless of the fate of the proposal — and there undoubtedly will be some alterations to it — the governor’s presentation left no one thinking that it was his in name only. The Lynch proposal was but one of the education-funding plans heard by the committee that week. The sub-committee of the House Education Committee charged with examining the Lynch plan as well as those submitted by several other legislators worked to try to narrow the field of options. Led by Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, the panel rejected several of the proposals and kept those proposed by the governor, the coalition of donor towns and Rep. Fred King, as well as a newly minted proposal. Much of the focus of the discussion was on the provision in the governor’s proposal that would give aid to school districts that fall below average in certain test scores and performance. Criticized as rewarding poor performance and penalizing success, this provision seems to be in trouble unless the proponents can persuade legislators that it takes a long time to change performance, and the provision really is meant to identify school districts in need of help, not incompetent or failing districts. In any event, the work continues for this sub-committee to fashion a proposal that meets the governor’s challenge of “finding a permanent solution to the school-funding issue this year — no matter who gets the credit.”
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On other matters, the Legislature is considering many bills that are repeats of those in prior years and cover a multitude of topics. House Bill 339, the informed consent for abortion act, requires certain information to be given to those seeking abortions and is as controversial as all bills in the Legislature having to do with that subject. It was reported 9-7 as inexpedient to legislate and was defeated. House Bill 685 permits casino gambling and has been retained in committee, which means it could crop up again if gambling is needed or supposed to be needed to fill budget gaps. It, like all gambling proposals, was the subject of a contentious hearing, and while most people profess not to like the bill, its retention makes some nervous and others hopeful. House Bill 656 revises the health-care surrogate laws and forms for durable powers of attorney for health care and living wills to update and simplify them. It also has a provision concerning do not resuscitate orders that allows such orders to be transferred from one health-care institution to another. Another version of the bill in the Senate is more controversial. It allows certain non-designated persons to make decisions for those who cannot make health-care decisions for themselves. The House version will probably carry the day. House Bill 209, the unborn victims of violence act, has been retained by its committee, indicating that there appears not to be any consensus on what to do with this proposal, which would make it a crime to harm a pregnant woman and give an independent right to the unborn child to be protected from violence. House Bill 147, regarding the execution of minors and making it illegal to execute anyone under 18 was the subject of an extensive hearing several weeks ago. In the interim, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it was unconstitutional to execute minors. While this may be thought to put the matter to rest, proponents of the bill think it should be enacted so that New Hampshire law will conform with the Supreme Court decision. Senate Bill 30, allowing pharmacists to prescribe the so-called “morning after pill” for contraception, was heard by a committee in January. It is a bill related to the abortion issue, and the failure by the Senate committee to act for such a long time indicates a lack of consensus on what to do with this one as well. Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

 

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