NH Week in Review for March 19: Stella creates weather and Town Meeting havoc

Mar 19, 2017

Two New Hampshire traditions, a March snowstorm and Town Meeting elections, collided on Tuesday.

The storm -- a classic Nor’easter named Stella that reached blizzard proportions in some areas -- closed schools and businesses, made driving a hazard, and knocked out power for thousands. The storm also knocked Town Meeting Day into a state of confusion.

Some communities forged ahead with their elections, which included voting for town government positions and, in many cases, ballot issues affecting public safety and school projects. Other communities, erring on the side of caution for their residents, postponed elections to later in the week.

Much of the confusion about whether to continue or postpone elections came from the fact that no state law advises municipal officials what to do in this case.

Municipal officials, Secretary of State William Gardner, and Gov. Christopher Sununu conferred on Monday before the storm, but could not reach consensus about what to do. Sununu ultimately issued a statement advising communities to hold their elections, otherwise risking the validity of the results if the voting was delayed.

“Given that there are differing opinions, the best we can do is strongly recommend that all towns stay open for voting tomorrow. We think that’s a very important part of the process, but given those differing opinions, I don’t think we’re in a position to mandate that towns stay open or reverse their direction if they so choose not to, but we do strongly recommend that they do stay open,” said Sununu.

See an NHPR story here.

Senate Democrats, led by their minority leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, filed legislation to legally protect the results in towns that decided to reschedule their elections. Gardner, who also advised communities to hold their elections on the designated Election Day, said he opposes any blanket immunity for communities. See a Union Leader story here.

As of Friday, there were still pockets of the Granite State without power, and you know it was a bad storm when New Hampshire decides to close all its state-run liquor stores early.

Edelblut donation

We learned this week that Frank Edelblut, before he became the state’s education commissioner, gave a $1,000 anonymous donation to the Croydon school board’s legal fight against the very state Department of Education he now oversees.

Edelblut, who was running as a Republican candidate for governor at the time of the donation, declined to acknowledge the donation when the Valley News first asked about it. The Croydon lawsuit involves an issue of school choice, of which Edelblut is a strong proponent.

Democratic Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky said the donation is something that Edelblut should have disclosed during his confirmation consideration before the council. Edelblut won the council’s approval, 3-2, with the three Republicans voting yes and the two Democrats voting no. Volinsky said he plans to raise the issue at next week’s council meeting, not because he believes a crime was committed but because he said he believes in the transparency of government. See an NH1 story here.

Action in the state Senate

The state Senate, along party lines, said no to a minimum wage hike in the state. Senate Bill 83 would have increased the minimum wage, currently set at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, the lowest in New England. The measure would have raised it to $8.50 in September, $10 next March and $12 in September 2018. See a New Hampshire Business Review story here.

Also along party lines, senators tightened eligibility requirements for food stamps. SB 7 includes works requirements, income limits and assets testing for would-be recipients of the program that is entirely funded by the federal government. Proponents said the measure would tamp down on fraud and abuse. See a Union Leader story here.

Legalized casino gambling lives to see another day, or at least another vote in the N.H. House. The Senate approved SB 242 to allow for the operation of two casinos in New Hampshire, including the operation of video and slot machines and table games. Revenue estimates for the state are between $100 million and $200 million a year. “We’ve seen some version of this legislation many times over the years. And while opinions in this body have wavered in favor or against gambling, the fact remains that there is a demand for it in the state and that expanding gaming provides a significant revenue resource for New Hampshire,” said state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, primary proponent of casino gambling in the state. Repeated efforts for casino gambling have died in the House.

The Senate approved SB 239 to reorganize the state Department of Children, Youth, and Families, an agency beset by controversy over child abuse cases. See a Union Leader story here.

Also

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was the Democratic Party’s pick this week for its weekly address, and she used the opportunity to criticize President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans for proposals to upend the Affordable Care Act. “The oldest rule in medicine is ‘do no harm.’ But millions of Americans ... will be hurt by efforts to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the Republican healthcare plan, also known as Trumpcare,” she said in the address that can be seen here.

On Facebook this week, we have discussions ongoing about rescheduling town meetings, e-cigarettes, and special visas for certain Afghans. Join in on the conversation here.

 

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