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Slouching toward the Legislature’s final days

By Garry Rayno - InDepthNH | Jun 15, 2020

The coronavirus interrupted 2020 legislative session will be one to remember, just as graduations will be this year for college and high school seniors.

Normalcy is gone, improvisation is the norm and things may never be the same.

This year a high school graduation ceremony was held atop Cranmore Ski Area in North Conway as many routinely watched the daily infection and fatality press briefings by governors and health officials.

Welcome to the new reality of COVID-19, a world crisis and economic disaster that pits public health against economic health under the witch’s brew of an election year.

The House met last week for the first time in three months and for the first time since the Civil War outside Representatives Hall.

The day was historic but quickly degenerated into its own civil war between Democrats and Republicans, reflecting a partisan divide that has plagued the House almost since it was sworn in 18 months ago, but that intensified this session.

The University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center ice hockey rink was large enough to permit adequate social distancing for the almost 400 members, staff, press and various other folks who all had to have their temperatures taken and be screened before entering the arena.

When the day was done, two votes had a positive result, a gloomy prediction for state revenues for the current biennium due to COVID-19’s economic devastation and allowing restaurants and bars to sell their keg beer by the growler during a state of emergency before it goes bad.

The remaining House bills died when all the Republicans voted to block changing deadlines so a simple majority could pass a bill instead of the two-thirds majority needed after the deadline.

That killed the remaining House bills for this year as well as any Senate approved bills the House had not acted on, which is most of them.

If that were the end of it, there would be little to show for the 2020 session as only seven bills have made it into the statutes today.

However, the Senate is about to salvage at least a modicum of the proposed legislation offered this year.

With more bipartisanship than the House, Senate committees crafted omnibus bills dealing with transportation, child protection, healthcare, housing etc. often with unanimous committee votes. Several of the behemoths will have partisan votes Tuesday when the Senate meets at 10 a.m. in Representatives Hall, which provides the 24 Senate members, staff and press with adequate social distancing.

The omnibus bills — or what are often referred to as Christmas trees because of all the things hanging on them — are all House bills.

These loaded bills used to be more common, but lawmakers decided in the 1990s the amendments had to be germane to the original bill, and the practice was curtailed somewhat.

Once the Senate passes its bills Tuesday, the House meets again June 30 to concur or non-concur with the Senate changes to the House bills.

Concurring or non-concurring requires a simple majority vote, so the omnibus bills passed by the Senate will most likely be on their way to Gov. Chris Sununu by July 1.

What the governor does with these bills is unknown, but some of the bills contain things the governor wants so that helps.

This is not the way most people envisioned the Legislative session ending this year, but like many other institutions, the General Court cannot escape the madness unleashed on the world this year.

New Hampshire has not weathered the political storms or the health crisis yet and the carnage is still visible.

No one foresaw a decrease of more than 150,000 people working in New Hampshire in a month’s time with an unemployment rate at record levels approaching 20 percent.

Or the closing of theaters, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, museums and everything else deemed non-essential, or that $3 billion would be invested in the New Hampshire businesses as part of a multi-trillion-dollar federal relief effort that may not be enough to save the economy or produce a quick turnaround.

The virus will cause other problems in the future. Many fear their lost jobs will never return if companies push greater efficiency through automation.

Without more federal help, state revenues could be from $600 million to $335 million less than the budget plan because of the coronavirus ravaged economy. Revenue losses of that magnitude end essential services to the state’s most vulnerable.

Colleges and universities may not reopen campuses until sometime next year, leading to more job losses, and who knows what will happen with public schools.

Will people ever be comfortable again eating in crowded restaurants or going to crowded concert halls or sporting events.

More people will continue to work from home lowering gas tax revenues which will reduce work on the highways and bridges.

Bus service is suspended between New Hampshire cities and Boston and New York City and may not return for some time, but who wants to go to Boston or New York City, both recovering COVID-19 hotspots.

To quote former President Jimmy Carter there is a malaise gripping the country and the world as the deaths rise and the virus spreads.

Adding to the uncertainty here is a partisan divide in Concord that has not been experienced in some time.

Refusing to compromise leads to what we saw last week at the Whittemore Center, a sobering realization the once unthinkable is now reality.

Although it was written a century ago, Irish Poet William Butler Yeats’s poem The Second Coming resonates as much today as when it was written:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.

InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to reporting ethical, unbiased news and diverse opinions and columns.

This article is courtesy of InDepthNH.org.

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