Friday, February 25, 2005

The Return of Crime Victim Leave

For the last several years, I have been working to pass legislation to grant victims of crime guaranteed unpaid leave from work. This would allow victims to meet with law enforcement officials and attend court proceedings without fear of losing their job because they have missed too many days. Under current law, a crime victim has no such legal protection, and should they be fired, their only alternative is to file a civil suit. Obviously, this is not a sensible state of affairs.

House Bill 329 is modeled after a similar law in Arizona. Gov. Janet Napolitano was a champion of this sort of legislation when she served as her state's attorney general. Providing leave for crime victims is both tough and compassionate. It is tough, because it allows prosecutors to do their job, without fear of losing a critical witness due to workplace pressures. It is compassionate, since it allows a victim to pursue justice and achieve some sense of closure, without the shadow of potential unemployment hanging over his or her head.

HB 329 is currently in a Labor subcommittee, where we are making some changes to certain portions of the bill. Thanks to some smart work by legislators of both parties, it appears that we might be able to build bipartisan support for the measure. NH has a solid record of supporting victim rights, and passage of this bill would be a solid addition to that legacy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Grandstanding vs. Principles

Perhaps no issue is more fraught with peril than that of abortion. It is an issue that touches upon concerns of a religious, philosophical, political, constitutional and ethical nature. In an ideal world, all issues relating to the unborn would be handled with the utmost degree of sensitivity and thoughtfulness.

Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world.

A bill was brought before the Criminal Justice Committee recently that addressed the matter of unborn children killed during the commission of a crime. new Hampshire law already considers such offenses to be crimes, covering them under the Assault statute. The bill under consideration would have dramatically changed the situation. It would have had the effect of converting any offense that resulted in the death of a fetus into a homicide. Obviously, this raises major questions of due process and other constitutional concerns.

Sadly, the sponsors of this bill, Reps. Packy Campbell and Fran Wendelboe, were thoroughly uninterested in working with the committee to devise an alternative approach to their concerns. Rather than crafting a constitutional compromise built around the existing law, they chose instead to take their own severely flawed (and politically dead-in-the-water) bill to the full House.

Why? Wouldn't it have made more sense to give a little to achieve most of your policy aims? Well, that's common sense, and we are now in the realm of political grandstanding.

It appears that Rep. Wendelboe is more concerned with having a provocative, hot-button issue on which to call a roll call. This way, she can put moderate Republicans and Democrats on the hot seat, forcing them to cast a vote which is inevitably going to leave everyone a little queasy.

It's time to grow up. As a Democrat who has on several occasions parted with the party line on abortion-related issues, I find this sort of stunt appaling. I try and take a measured and thoughtful approach to issues of this magnitude. When matters of deep moral import are reduced to a checkmark on someone's silly scorecard, we as a society are the poorer for it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Continuing Adventures of Techno Jim!!!

Wherein we find our brave hero Jim Splaine-state rep, former state senator, former city councilor, and veteran Democratic activist-waging a valiant battle to figure out how to use the HaloScan comments feature...

Keep trying, Jim, we want to hear from you!

(oh, and if anyone can help Jim figure the Comments out, please lend him a hand!)

"But I'm not dead..."

Sorry about the light posting these last few days. Between a heavy committee schedule, moving my law practice to a new home, and fighting off a midwinter cold, time has been scarce.

I'll be back with some thoughts on the state budget, crime victim rights, and abortion politics. That ought to make sure I will offend just about everyone.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Susan McLane, 1927-2005

Former state senator Susan McLane of Concord died at a Concord hospice center.

Sen. McLane was a tough and tenacious fighter for the causes she believed in, yet always handled herself with civility and dignity. The NH political community will be a lesser place without her presence.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Sen. McLane's family. Last year, I had the pleasure of getting to know Susan's daughter, Ann McLane Kuster, through the Kerry campaign and as a result of tapping her knowledge of NH adoption law. Ann's dedication and good heart are a testament to the mother who raised her.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hack Attack

No, not the computer sort, though the state government server was hit with one this week.

Rather, I am talking about political hacks, the party-first, substance-optional apparatchiks of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. These folks have decided to make life difficult for independent voters, a group that outnumbers both Democrats and Republicans herein the Granite State.

Yesterday, the NH House passed legislation that imposes new roadblocks for independents who wish to participate in a primary election. Under the current system, an independent voter can enter the polling place, request a Democratic or Republican ballot, and, after a few minutes of life as a member of that party, return to Independent status on the way out the door. It's simple and uncomplicated, and it helps avoid scenarios where a voter finds themself "trapped" in a party.

The bill passed by the House yesterday would require independent voters to wait 90 days before they could change their affiliation. It's a silly, pointless bit of bureaucratic buffoonery that can only make independents feel even more detached from the process than they already do today.

The bill's backers would have us believe that this would foster party loyalty and cohesiveness. This is an excercise in wishful thinking. Demographic and political trends have been chipping away at the old party system for decades, and a goofy attempt to lock voters out via bureaucratic boondoggles isn't going to change that.

Personally, I welcome the role of independents in the primary system. Independents play a key role in tempering the angry, polarizing tendencies of some partisans, and force the parties to address the needs of the larger electorate, not merely those of favored special interest groups.

The real motivation here is an attempt by hyperpartisans from both sides of the aisle to remove an unpredictable x-factor from the political arena. Too many party ultraloyalists resent the role of independent voters because these voters refuse to adhere to the agenda of the regulars. It is no surprise that the folks who backed this measure were by and large people who backed Bush over McCain and Gore over Bradley. If Watergate was about following the money, this is about following the election returns...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Education Funding, Chapter XXXVIII

Gov. John Lynch has entered the school funding fray, and based upon what I have seen so far, he seems to have come up with a sensible and creative approach to New Hampshire's perennial policy headache.

In the decade since the state Supreme Court's Claremont decision, the ed funding debate has degenerated into a theater of the surreal. Towns such as Amherst and Bedford, which have among the highest incomes in the country, have been designated "property poor" receiver towns, Manchester has seen its fortunes rise and fall with every change of the political winds, and efforts at addressing other education policy concerns have been tossed into cold storage while everyone bickers about the dollars.

Fortunately, the Lynch plan is an attempt to move the debate in a new direction. Whereas previous funding plans have focused on either the "donor town" vs. "receiver town" discrepancies or on blatant right-wing efforts to return to a pre-Claremont mythical utopia, the Lynch plan introduces what is being called the Education Equity Index.

The equity index uses a range of factors to direct aid towards communities that show the greatest needs for resources. The factors take into account a city or town's fiscal capacity, based upon median income and equalized property value; "classroom challenge" factors, which refers to socio-economic considerations such as the number of English as a Second Language students and the number of students receiving free or reduced school lunches; and performance factors, which is the use of test scores, graduation rates and post-secondary matriculation to track a school or district's real-world status.

The details still need to be placed on the table, and no plan ever survives the process intact. However, by making performance and student needs part of the equation, Gov. Lynch has moved the debate in a positive and refreshingly new direction.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

From the Sunday Papers

PoliticsNH's James Pindell reports on John Edwards' speech to a NH Democratic Party fundraising dinner in Manchester last night. Money quote:

By the end of the night State Rep. Bette Lasky, (D-Nashua) was recalling a similar speech Edwards gave in front of the same group in October 2002.

“He is much more polished now and I think he’d have a lot more support from the establishment if he were to run again,” Lasky said.

And just how is this is a positive?

Tom Fahey's "Under the State House Dome" column reports that Gov. Lynch will unveil his education funding proposal. Thus far, details about the Lynch plan have been hard to come by, but Fahey indicates that the plan will use a targeted aid formula based upon property values and median income. This probably bodes well for Manchester, but as is always the case with ed funding issues, the devil is in the details.

Not Even Close

With or without T.O., it won't matter. The Patriots are going to win this evening, and it isn't going to be close.

Patriots 37
Eagles 10

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

We're # 48! We're # 48!

The Government Performance Project has released the results of its state-by-state report cards, and the results aren't pretty.

New Hampshire received a grade of C, whcih places it at number 48, beating out the two states that drew a C- grade.

One of the ironies of this ranking is the fact that NH received poor marks for its information management processes. NH is perhaps the most techno-savvy state in the country, with an ungodly percentage of our residents employed in IT, softweare and related fields, and yet we seem to have enormous trouble when it comes to using technology to spur better governmental management practices.

I am glad that this survey was made public. There is a myth that NH is a utopia of frugality and efficiency, when we actually careen back and forth between being cheap and being foolish. The near absence of performance-based criteria is a long standing source of irritation for me and many of my colleagues. The end result is a system where the debate degenerates into "you hate children" versus "your a big spender", with little or no discussion of the actual substance of the underlying policy issues. It's insular, small-bore silliness. We can do better, and it is high time to demand as much from our elected leaders.

(Tip of the hat to Greg Wythe for the link!)

Meanwhile, back in Concord...

It's a relatively quiet week at the State House. There is no House session, and many of the committees are concentrating on subcommittee work or briefings by policy experts. The Election Law Committee is the exception, as it continues to hold hearings on a number of new bills, with all of the grace and dignity of a Tijuana cockfight.

Homecoming Update

The 172nd Field Artillery homecoming will take place on Wednesday, February 2nd at 2 PM at the NH Army National Guard Armory on Canal St. in Manchester.

Today's Union Leader features a few short interviews with members of the 172nd, including one with SSG Larry Dube. SSG Dube is tat rarest of characters, someone who served in both the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts. I had the honor of serving in a battery fire direction center with SSG Dube, and I can say with confidence that he is a good man and a damn good NCO, someone who was always willing to assist not only the privates and Spec-4s who served under him, but the Lieutenants and Captains who (theoretically) served over him.

Welcome home, and have fun in Florida...