HB735 Info sheet
Co-authors: Rep. Lee Oxenham and Rep. Ken Wells
[Click here to go to the "Carbon Cash-Back" website.]
New Hampshire’s “Carbon Cash-back” proposes a plan that has been heralded by thousands of leading economists as the fairest, most effective, and least costly way to reduce the growing damage caused by carbon dioxide pollution. Sometimes “Carbon Cash-back” is called by a technical description: a “carbon fee and dividend” program. Here’s how each part of the Carbon Cash-back plan works:
Carbon Fee – A gradually-rising fee on the net carbon dioxide pollution from fuels that increase atmospheric CO2.
• Purpose: Creates market-driven demand for cleaner energy technologies. Reduces NH carbon emissions by correcting market distortions due to “free” carbon pollution.
• Details: Pollution fee starts at $20 per short ton of CO2e, increases $10/ton each year. Assessed once, at the point of importation into NH, and is reduced by the amount of CO2 emission fees already paid on a particular shipment nationally or regionally. (No double-dipping)
• Exemption for non-emissive uses of carbon feedstocks, such as polymer and pharmaceuticals manufacturing.
Carbon “Cash-back” Dividend Fund – Rebates essentially 100% of net revenues in equal shares to all NH citizens over 18 (less an estimated 1% for postage and administrative expenses).
• Purpose: Reimburses NH people in equal shares for the damage experienced across our state to our health, our property and damage to the natural beauty and economic value of our NH environment.
•Stimulates local economies, by encouraging local renewable energy jobs and projects. Rather than sending about $4 billion NH dollars out of state in exchange for polluting fuels (which NH does not extract or refine), more NH dollars would be spent on locally produced energy like hydro, solar and wind, to be spent and re-spent in NH.
• Maintains revenue neutrality. This “cash-back” method of putting a price on carbon pollution has an important advantage over cap-and trade or carbon taxes. It is emphatically not a tax, but a reimbursement to citizens from endeavors that damage our shared atmosphere.
•The “cash-back” rebate offsets fuel cost increases for more than 60% of NH households. The rebate’s break-even point covers the equivalent of an individual’s annual purchase of 1600 gallons of liquid petroleum fuels (gasoline + heating oil + diesel), or 2500 gallons of natural gas or propane. It will result in net pocket cash for individuals who use less than these per capita amounts. (This projection was based on Feb 2020 prices, before fuel prices dropped precipitously. Now that most fossil fuel is 2/3 as expensive, the break-even jumps up to 2400 gallons of gasoline or heating oil yearly, or 3750 gallons of natural gas or propane, making CCB even easier to bear. Most folks use far less than this, but it's frankly hard to project what the fee revenues will be, since demand has also fallen off.)
• Details: Equal share to adults who complete an opt-in form establishing a bonafide NH residence and mailing address. Administered by NH Dept of Environmental Services. Options for payment are full-value rebate annually, or monthly payments with $1 postage and handling deducted. First-year estimated revenue of $300 million would result in a citizen’s annual rebate check of roughly $300 or, if the monthly option is chosen, a $24 check each month.
Regulatory Adjustment – Reduces NH’s fee on covered CO2 emissions if the federal bill is passed, by the amount already paid to US. (no “double dipping”)
Ken Wells' Report from Concord
written May 15, 2020
published in the June issue of the Andover Beacon
As of June 10, the NH Legislature is back in session again, finally. Since the House of Representatives’ 19-hour marathon session back on March 12, the House has been unable to meet. The Governor declared a COVID-19 state of emergency on March 17, locking the State House and the Legislative Office Building. On March 25, the Democratic caucus of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the Governor, imploring him to issue a stay-at-home order to protect the people of NH and slow the exponential spread of the disease.
Shortly thereafter, the Governor issued stay-at-home orders, followed by many other extraordinary emergency measures designed to prevent widespread loss of life, to prevent overwhelming our hospitals, and to direct federal relief funds to keep our state, our businesses and our families from experiencing catastrophic failure, in the short term.
But unfortunately, this coronavirus is not programmed to be a short term phenomenon. We are exposed to all kinds of viruses daily, and fortunately the human body’s natural defenses are almost impenetrable. But if a single copy of a virus gets through, it may penetrate and commandeer one of that person’s cells, instructing that cell to become a tiny virus-producing factory. For viruses like chicken pox, measles or herpes, the infected cells do nothing else and become so full of virus copies they finally burst, causing a tiny crater-like wound and an immediate immune reaction. However, the novel coronavirus is sneakier than that. It instructs each infected cell to export thousands of copies of the virus across its membrane into the outside world, while continuing to carry on the cell’s “official duties”. For a while, the person’s immune system patrols past the infected cell and notices nothing amiss - the cell looks okay from the outside, like a house where the lights come on at night and newspapers aren’t accumulating on the porch. Meanwhile, the neighboring cells are surrounded by that exported virus, become infected, and a chain reaction of infection begins. This can go on silently for days or weeks. Everytime an infected person coughs or breathes, they exhale a cloud of virus-laden droplets, even before they feel sick.
Eventually, most people’s immune systems will notice that many cells are not right, and begin aggressively destroying the bad cells. This is the moment you begin to feel sick and feverish. Unfortunately, the two week delay before recognition of all those infected cells can, in too many cases, cause the aggressive human immune response to get out of hand. The over-reaction destroys vast amounts of tissue, permanently damaging lungs, kidneys and possibly even brain tissue. The majority of people will survive a corona infection but sustain damage, just as the majority of humankind survived smallpox but were scarred for life. This coronavirus is not a bug you want to get!
The coronavirus is spreading, not just from cell to cell, but from house to house across our whole country. By the time you read this, the number of deaths nationally will be nearly 100,000, and it’s likely someone you know will have contracted the disease. I have been keeping close tabs on the advance of the virus in Merrimack County, Franklin and Andover, and the virus is here and beginning to spread with increasing speed. In the abstract, it seems like watching the advance of a California wildfire in slow motion. With the coronavirus swirling around us like an invisible wildfire, it would be foolish in the extreme to blithely travel out and about, without taking adequate precautions. That is why I have signed a letter with fellow Legislators of both the House and Senate, urging the Governor to enact a mandatory order for protective facemasks in public.
It has been shown that without social distancing and protective masks, the probability of catching coronavirus from encountering an infected person is very likely - about 75%. However, if both people are wearing masks, the probability drops below 1%. Those are good odds. Please always wear a mask. Be sure to cover both your nose and mouth, and wash or replace your mask after use. Simple soapy water absolutely destroys the virus on skin, clothing and frequently touched surfaces.
What we have been accomplishing by staying at home has had an important effect and has kept NH hospitals from becoming overwhelmed in the first months of the pandemic. But the trajectory of the disease continues to be upward. In March, the number of cases in our local area was zero, but we could observe the number of cases explode in the major metropolitan areas of Boston and New York, doubling every three days. In the week we began social distancing in NH, the virus continued to spread, but it now took seven days to double the number of cases. As the sixth week went by, the time to double had increased to fifteen days. At eight weeks out from the state of emergency declaration, cases are doubling every seventeen days. It is incorrect to describe the rate of infections as “slowing down”; it is still accelerating, but not as strongly as it accelerates without social distancing and staying at home.
I know everyone misses their “old normal” life and is impatient to get back to work or play as they once did. The White House and the Center for Disease Control both recommend that stay at home restrictions remain in place until the disease “has a downward trajectory for fourteen days”. At this time, the trajectory of the disease remains strongly upward. The number of cases continues to double roughly every two and a half weeks because infected people who don’t yet feel sick are still running around spreading the virus. These people are tools of the disease, acting as “invisible infectors”. In theory, if every single person in the world could go four weeks without exposing another person, the virus would become extinct. Sadly, we have not yet all agreed to cooperate this way, even though the lives of our friends and families, as well as our jobs and our livelihoods depend on it.
Someone you know might already be infected today, shedding a cloud of virus with every breath, and not even know it. It is not okay to ignore social distancing. It is not okay to go out in public without a face covering to protect the people around you. The disorderly clamor to “reopen the economy” while spreading the disease further is irresponsible and wrong-headed. What amount of money is more important than the lives of the other people around you? Is it your “right” to endanger the lives of people around you, just as surely as if you were driving drunk? Instead, please identify yourself as a responsible person by wearing a mask in public, and be courteous and kind in helping others remember their masks and to maintain a safe distance. If restrictions are lifted now while the disease is still increasing, the effect on people’s lives and the economy will be catastrophic and permanent. The consequences of the pandemic are so serious, our response must transcend our political and ideological differences. We are all in the same boat drifting toward certain disaster, and we must agree to row it together to escape.
The most important recent development in fighting the virus is that NH has received $61 million to expand COVID-19 testing. NH residents with any COVID-19 symptoms, or with underlying health conditions, or are over the age of 60, or who are healthcare workers can request and reserve a test. Interested individuals can sign up and reserve a test by going to the online portal at https://prd.blogs.nh.gov/dos/hsem/?page_id=8479. They can also email firstname.lastname@example.org, call the COVID-19 Coordinating Office at 603-271-5980, or by going through a health care provider. There are now seven drive-through testing sites as part of the Community-Based COVID-19 Testing Program. The drive-through testing locations are in Claremont, Concord, Lancaster, Milford, Plymouth, Tamworth and Rochester. The nearest to Andover is at 28 Stickney Avenue in Concord. You must sign up online or by phone to reserve a test. Please share this information with those who need to know about it. If we can identify “invisible infectors”, we can begin to trace all the folks they have exposed, isolate and treat them, and beat back the wildfire advance of coronavirus, as several other countries have already done.
While we don’t yet have a vaccine, we have effective weapons to slow the accelerating spread. The virus is nothing but a mindless set of instructions for creating a mutiny in human cells, incapable of altering its behavior. We humans however are intelligent and adaptable. We can change how we behave to protect ourselves, our families and our neighbors. We know that our bodies are virtual fortresses against viral infections, and our vulnerabilities to coronavirus are few and very specific. The coronavirus can only be spread by droplets or aerosol from an infected person’s lungs, being inhaled or similarly transferred to another person’s airways. If we wear masks, wash our hands frequently and avoid touching our noses, mouth or eyes (as medical professionals routinely do) we can avoid spreading our own undiscovered infection to others, and we can avoid becoming infected ourselves. This is not just about our own personal protection, but about protecting our whole world of friends, neighbors and relatives.
We have a chance to reverse the spread of the disease, by heeding scientific experts who are working around the clock to bring us accurate information, to develop better lab tests and to develop new vaccines and effective treatments. Please be safe, help protect everyone else in our wonderful community, and look for ways to help your neighbors who are struggling to get through this.
Ken Wells' Report from Concord April 15, 2020
The customary title of this column, “Report from Concord”, seems peculiar to me now, since I’ve been unable to go to Concord for the past month. Just days after the all-night House session I described in the previous issue in the Beacon, the Governor locked down the State House and all the related government offices, due to the rising pandemic. Roughly a week later, after the State House was locked down, the Governor issued his stay-at-home order for the rest of NH citizens - a wise and necessary measure to quell the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases across NH.
But what does closing the State House mean? It is not merely a building that has been shut down. Because the Senate and the House are unable to meet, there can be no quorum, so no votes, and their standing committees cannot hold any public hearings to advance legislation. The Executive Council, a powerful and unique NH entity which approves or rejects every major purchase or contract with the State, is also barred from meeting in the State House, so no new state contracts can legally be entered into.
Many are raising serious concerns about whether our representative democracy will be able to function under these emergency conditions, especially since the COVID-19 emergency will likely continue much longer than any of us would like. As long as the emergency ban on meetings is in effect, and until virtual government meetings by teleconferences can be recognized as legally acceptable, a serious obstacle exists to the constitutional functioning of our state government. Unfortunately, we have not quite figured out how our representative system can work during the current pandemic, which rightly demands physical distancing, because the legislative bodies cannot meet to discuss and modify their own rules to respond to the crisis, nor can they update existing laws.
History tells us repeatedly, times of crisis are times when autocrats have tried to increase and consolidate their power. Not to draw a direct comparison to NH, but as a worst-case cautionary tale, recall that in 1933, Hitler cemented totalitarian control of his country’s government with an emergency decree he issued the day after the German legislative building, the Reichstag”, was totally destroyed by a mysterious nighttime fire. Unopposed, Hitler was free to do what he did. Let’s learn from history.
With the State House shut down, all the co-equal branches of NH government face a significant obstacle to their function, and our constitutional democracy faces a number of risks. The guard rails imposed by the NH Constitution’s “checks and balances” provide a dynamic and productive struggle among 1) the “General Court”, composed of the House & Senate Legislative bodies, 2) the Executive Council, who must approve the State’s contractual expenditures 3) the NH judicial courts, and 4) the Governor’s Executive offices.
How does the venerable NH Constitution envision government? Your interests, as citizens of NH’s Merrimack District 1, are primarily represented by your elected officials in the Legislature. (That is, myself, David Karrick and Senator French.) The courts, presided over by judges appointed by this and previous Governors, make sure that everyone is playing according to the “rulebook” embodied in the NH Constitution and in statute. The Governor, as chief executive, is granted vast and sweeping powers he can wield with agility in the face of a sudden crisis like COVID-19, but his emergency measures are subject to review in the slower, but powerfully deliberative processes within the Legislature and the Courts.
The NH Constitution is a brilliant document, crafted and refined over many years to consider past and future circumstances, and even such an emergency as this current pandemic was planned for. In the case of emergency spending, the Legislature’s “power of the purse” was delegated in RSA 9:13(d) to a small bipartisan “dream team” called the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, who has the power to approve or nix any emergency expenditures on behalf of the full Legislature. (It’s called “joint” because its members include both House Representatives and Senators of both parties.) Especially important these days, the Joint Fiscal Committee is constitutionally permitted to conduct its business via telephone or internet teleconferences.
What does the NH Constitution say we are supposed to be doing, to quickly and constitutionally distribute federal emergency aid to NH people when it arrives this month? Yeah, that’s not what’s happening right now. The Governor has created his own, different “dream team” which he calls “GOFERR”. This body supposedly has oversight, but possesses no constitutional power to reject or halt expenditures of the $1.25 billion dollars in federal funds, to whomever, by the Governor. GOFERR seems aptly named, because its only power, it seems, is to rubber-stamp the Governor’s decisions on what happens to the money . Now, I trust that the Governor means to do right by the People of NH, but could anyone stop him if he decided to send part of NH’s $1.25 billion in federal emergency funds to say, bailout the out-of-state industries that are his political supporters? The NH Constitution says the existing Joint Fiscal Committee must be the body empowered to stand in the way of such questionable decisions, and that the Joint Fiscal Committee is already constitutionally empowered to make sure that the People get the monies intended for them.
The problem of the day (yesterday, as I write this, two weeks before press time) is that the suit challenging GOFERR brought by the Legislature will take some time to grind through the courts, and in the meantime, the federal money might already have been spent improperly. Good luck getting any of that money back to NH people after the check clears, especially since it would be hard and slow to get the money back if it was cashed by an out-of-state entity. (If you would like more information about what state & federal aid might be available to you, your children or your small business, see the information posted at AndoverBeacon.com, or call me.)
I’m convinced that GOFERR isn’t in the best interests of the People of NH, and bypassing the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee is not consistent with the NH Constitution I swore an oath to protect.
Optimistic thoughts on being a homebody in Andover
We all worry about “bad things happening” to us and to those dear to us in these pandemic days. There is growing anxiousness about the waning of our livelihoods and our environment, looming just over the horizon. I admit I feel cut off from my former routine and occupation, giving me too much time to worry about my grown children who are at risk as “essential employees” in the high-risk environments of grocery retail and an urban medical research lab.
But as frightening as these times may be, it is also true that times of adversity are when we learn of inspiring stories about acts of kindness and bravery, of neighbors reaching out to help their neighbors, and about everlasting bonds of life-long friendships being formed. These are great things that don’t simply “happen to us”, but are things that we deliberately go out of our way to do for each other.
We are blessed to be where we are right now, in the middle of rural NH. I think back to wonderful stories written by Donald Hall, in String Too Short to be Saved. He described summers he spent driving a horse-drawn hay wagon and tramping in the woods around his grandfather Wesley Wells’ farm near Ragged Mountain, almost a century ago. Many things are different today than they were in Hall’s youth, but most of the important things haven’t changed. Whether our roots here go back generations, or whether the winds of fortune carried us to alight here just recently as newcomers, we are so fortunate to find ourselves in the midst of a caring community, surrounded by natural beauty and resources, and importantly, living at some distance from the first shock wave of the pandemic. Nevertheless, we know change is coming. We have been granted time to contemplate our next move together.
As one looks at how societies have changed over time, one sees long periods of slow, evolutionary change that altered little, interspersed with short, intense disruptions that caused major upheavals. Looking at it optimistically, those upheavals are opportunities for people to re-think what “leading the good life” means to them, and gives them a chance to make different choices about how they choose to live. We are at just the beginning of such an upheaval. There will be no going back - the future will be different from the past, as always.
The key to survival and success in such a fluid situation, if one has been granted time to think it over, is to cooly assess how the worst might come about, and then devise a plan to avoid that. Then with some clever re-thinking of what is most important to us, we might even discover a “new normal” that puts us in a better situation than our “old normal”. Passively resisting the change will not lead to the best outcome, nor will a refusal to acknowledge the existence of new risks.
While my family and I search for our own “new normal”, we discovered that being active and constructive is an excellent way of coping.
“Staying at home” has a dreary, shut-in ring to it, but “being at home” sounds as inviting as a month of Sundays. While we were “being at home”, we baked cookies and stitched masks for the hospital and an old folks home. We took our dog for walks that were as long as the old boy hoped they would be. We worked in the yard and enjoyed the emerging daffodils, and on the rainy days we repainted a room for a fresh look.
Slowing down to watch the natural world transition into spring has been more refreshing than any new coat of paint. I’m hopeful about reports that worldwide, the atmosphere and wildlife have already shown signs of recovering, as worldwide pollution has declined in the past months. Can we imagine a “new normal” that finds new ways of making the things we need, growing our food and transporting it, buying less “stuff” that gets thrown away after one use, and doing more work from home, so that the health of our world improves?
Most of all, I hope we can all find good ways to cope, asking others for help when we need it, and offering to help others as we can. You can start very simply by merging your grocery lists with say two neighbors, and taking turns with them to do one weekly shopping trip. That way, each of you ventures out in public only once every three weeks, you save fuel driving one car instead of three to the store, and you reduce the risk to the grocery workers by reducing the number of people they come in contact with.
I’m sure that many readers will have their own great ideas to share about how we can help each other, and how we can discover a safe, healthy and uplifting “new normal” together!
Ken Wells' Report from Concord March 15, 2020
The first two weeks of March provided ample reminders that while our state government is charged with important duties and responsibilities to the public, the “politicking” involved in getting the job done can be petty, cutthroat and infuriating.
During the current session, the House heard 951 House bills. Each bill gets an introduction and public hearing before one of the 24 House committees, in which any member of the public, agency employee or paid lobbyist can express their views in public testimony. For about three weeks in February I filled in as the Science, Technology and Energy Committee’s clerk, while the regular clerk took a three week trip to Central America on a cruise ship. (Alarming! What we know now about COVID19 was not known then; it was even being proclaimed a “hoax” by some.) Back in school I learned to take excellent, nearly verbatim handwritten notes, but I’m a terrible typist. Each hearing day we heard about five bills. The notes for one particularly long bill ran 26 pages long. It took me a long time to type up and submit every bill to our committee assistant for the record, but it’s important to provide an accurate written record of the testimony on each bill. If the bill should be challenged, even years later in the courts, the judges will want to look back at these notes for more details to clarify the “legislative intent” of the bill.
A week or so after the hearing there is a second, deliberative committee “work session” on every bill. This is a slightly less formal exchange between members of the committee expressing their positions on the bill. Sometimes a committee member will suggest an amendment, which then needs to be polished by one of the state’s lawyers into proper “official” legal language. The discussions are not truly conversations; every comment needs to be directed to the Chairman, not to another member, just like we do at Town Meeting. Nevertheless, the exchanges can be pretty heated and ideological differences flare. For example, “should we update the radiation monitoring in the seacoast area, to try to get data to identify the causes of three clusters of multiple, rare childhood leukemia cases?” Or, should we “trust the professionalism of the nuclear power plant and not unnecessarily increase the plant’s costs, which they will simply pass onto ratepayers”? Such arguments can go on for more than an hour, without compromise. The power plant’s spokesperson was present, but since this is no longer a hearing but a work session, he is not to speak unless he is asked a question by the chairman.
The third meeting for a bill is the committee’s “executive session” on that bill. There may be a final polished amendment presented and explained to the committee. Eventually a motion will be made by a member on whether to pass, amend, kill the bill, or send it to further study. (The member who makes the winning motion is also volunteering for the chore of writing the committee’s Majority Report. Someone on the other side of the vote has the option of writing a Minority Report.) At the end, the committee members vote on the bill one-by-one in a roll call by the clerk (my job), who records each vote, tallies the outcome and adds it to the official record. There can be several votes on a difficult bill - if the initial motion fails, another member might make a different motion, such as “interim study”, which essentially sends the bill into dignified obscurity. Some of the bills due to their complexity or expense are then sent to a second committee (such as Finance) for a second round of this whole process.
It took all of January and February to get all 951 bills through committee, and then they are to be voted by the full House in the very impressive Representatives Hall. I wrote five bills this session (and co-wrote a sixth) and they met a variety of fates. The Commerce committee unanimously recommended killing my HB1184, which would have given more guidance to entrepreneurs navigating the various state permitting processes, because they judged that adequate guidance already exists. (Ouch.) Because there was no dissent among the committee, they placed it on the so-called “consent calendar” as ITL. (“Inexpedient to Legislate”) For bills on Consent, the full House makes a single vote to accept the committees’ recommendations without debate. Another one of my bills, HB1185, proposes a industry-supported youth apprenticeship program, modeled on the system used so successfully in Germany. That bill has strong bipartisan support and also went on Consent, because it was unanimously passed 17-0 by the committee. (Yay!) My other bills have had more complicated histories I won’t explain now, but they are all still alive and will be heard by the Senate next. The sixth bill is “on the table” which is like being on the bench on a sports team; it could theoretically be brought back into the game by majority vote.
Then in February the full House began to take up the bills that were out of committee. It took several weeks to churn through them all. The bills on Consent are passed dozens at a time in a voice vote, which takes only about 30 seconds. The more contentious bills are debated, with the Minority view presented first, followed by a speech by the Majority view. Since I wrote a number of my committee’s Majority Reports last year, I have had the opportunity to deliver my short speeches “at the well”, as the pulpit-like podium is known. Now that the novelty has worn off, I’ve become a lot more confident and discovered that it’s not too different from speaking to one of my classes when I was a teacher (except my students were more attentive and better behaved!)
Then, the political shenanigans started: About this time last year, the Speaker of the House announced that all State House legislators and staff would be required to attend a training session on sexual harassment in the workplace. Fine idea. In my former job as a teacher, all school employees were required to do similar training, to protect both themselves, their co-workers and the reputation of the institution. I don’t recall that anyone in school objected very much to that, expecting they would certainly lose their jobs if they did not comply. Representatives had a whole year to complete the training and those that didn’t go to the first two well-attended one-hour lectures were reminded in increasingly demanding ways to attend. (If you have any experience with bill collectors, you have a good idea of the escalation I’m describing.) In spite of that, nine members refused to attend the sexual harassment training sessions for a whole year.
So, the Speaker issued reprimands to each of these people, to be voted on by the full House after they had a chance to explain themselves. One had a plausible excuse the House accepted (he had certified completion of such a training at his other job). Another accepted responsibility without complaint. But the others were loudly and insultingly defiant. The House voted to reprimand them.
The following full House session was just two days before the deadline: any bills not passed by the end of the March 12 session would be dead. Many of those bills contain essential legislation, vital to somebody or everybody in the state. Those reprimanded, aided by their allies, began to employ delaying tactics, much like filibustering in the US Congress. We started at 9am on both days, but after a day and a half of session, at noon of March 12 only 35 bills had been voted on, including the bills on the Consent Calendar, and 151 remained.
Bills come up alphabetically according to the name of the committee recommending them, so Science, Tech & Energy bills are third from the end, just in front of Transportation and Ways & Means. (Ways & Means is your Rep. David Karrick’s committee, which has the important job of finding revenue for all state functions.)
Word filtered through back channels that if the House voted to lift the reprimands, the delaying tactics would stop.
Many representatives were furious at this attempt at what felt like blackmail. Most resolved they would stand fast and get the People’s work, the work of the House, finished no matter what. Some feared that if too many reps got tired and left, or if the reprimanded faction walked out, the quorum would be lost and all legislative action would have to simply stop. The quorum is the minimum number in attendance to legally conduct business, or 268 members. As we took our seats, some were surprised when the Speaker announced that in order to maintain a quorum, he was locking us in! What? I suddenly recalled that more than a year ago, after I was sworn in I received an official summons in the mail, requiring my presence in the House under pain of…I forget what, because it seemed so unlikely. Then we heard that the State Police were in the building. Wow, this was no fooling around!
We pushed on, and the delays continued. Six o’clock went by, only a few bills were finished, the delays continued. Nine-thirty, and I broke out my supply of chocolate covered espresso beans and passed them around to my sleepy neighbors. It was looking grim.
At midnight we all took a short break to snack on apples, power bars and water provided to everyone by the staffers. We observed that COVID19 cases are increasing every day, so suspending the House deadline and reconvening to finish the work at a later date would be increasingly dangerous. In the mean time, 400 people or so, many over 80 years old, were staying up all night to listen to arguments in a crowded room. Was there any way this could get worse? The mood began to shift from rigid opposition to the camaraderie of facing hardship together. A bit weird, but cool.
Back in our seats, someone made that proposal that we suspend the rules and reconvene at a later date to finish our work. That motion was soundly defeated - just push on! Around 2am, somebody on the other side proposed we limit debate to three minutes on each side, and it passed by a loud voice vote.
Weeks before, at the executive sessions, others on my committee had volunteered to write lengthy floor speeches for all our bill’s debates before the full House. (I had been clerk for three weeks, so I was kind of tired of writing stuff and didn’t ask for one of those!) Instead, I volunteered to offer several of the short and stuffily formal “parliamentary inquiries” or “P.I.’s”, which contain a short outline of a bill’s main points, presented as a question: “Mr Speaker, if I know that this bill …[does this, and that and the other good thing]…then would I not push the green button to accept the committee’s recommendation to pass this bill?”
With the clock running out and twelve bills in our committee, my committee chairman asked me if I could give the P.I.’s in place of the floor speeches. I scribbled and edited my notes on about six bills, to be as succinct as possible. For each of several bills, I made the pitch and the bills passed, one after another. The last one was an especially contested bill (about the radiation detectors I mentioned above) and whaddayaknow, the power plant’s spokesperson is sitting up in the gallery, at three in the morning! I got fired up, gave the pitch in a coach’s “down by six at half-time” pep-talk style. (I had a good deal of practice at that - it’s a situation my football team found itself in many times when I was a coach, but we always finished the season with more wins than losses.) When I was done speaking, the House applauded (an unusual breech of decorum). Perhaps because the liked what I said, or was it because we were that much closer to being done? The vote was counted, and the bill passed 160-128.
The last Ways & Means bill passed a bit later, and the House adjourned around four in the morning. A Republican colleague with whom I have worked closely on the bipartisan apprenticeship bill found me on the way out and wanted to chat. He was really excited about having been in an absolutely epic session of the NH House, the likes of which nobody could remember! It was a nice feeling of camaraderie and resolution. The People’s work was finished, at least for the time being.
The next day, my colleague Kermit Williams shared his thoughts:
“I was reminded last night of Shakespeare’s play Henry V, where Henry tells his troops on the eve of the battle of Agincourt, in part;
“And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.”
Last night was our Saint Crispin’s day, and it will remembered by all of us forever. And future reps who were a-bed in New Hampshire will wish they had been there, because last night will be legendary!”
Ken Wells' Report from Concord
written Feb 13, 2020
published in the March issue of the Andover Beacon
Exciting things have been happening in New Hampshire in 2020, and Andover is right in the middle of it all!
New Hampshire held the First In The Nation Primary, and our state did itself proud in contributing a meaningful start to the important national process of selecting our presidential candidates for November. (Sorry you made a mess of it, Iowa.) Two important factors in the past election speak very well of all of you: voter turnout was very high, and NH voters are clearly better informed and engaged than in many other states.
Another first in the nation initiative is the call from New Hampshire citizens like you to pass warrant articles in every NH town, calling upon our elected officials to grow the political backbone to take strong action on our global climate emergency. Moreover, people like you are demanding that we stop allowing “free” pollution. If pollution is free, we get too much of it.
I’m proud to be a co-author of the “carbon cash-back” plan, that will put money in the pocket of every NH citizen over 18, to make them whole for the damage we are all experiencing due to carbon dioxide pollution. This forceful plan is the most effective, and least expensive, plan for turning away from dirty imported fuels, and developing our own vibrant, home-grown, clean energy economy. Our state is sending four billion of our dollars out of state annually for these fuels, and we would be better off if some of those dollars stayed in NH to build our own energy businesses. If this legislation is enacted here, there is a good chance that NH will be the first in the nation again in this regard. We will show other states and the entire nation how we make a course correction together, towards a brighter future. (I would have liked to have included “the world” in the previous sentence, but 46 countries are already doing this successfully.)
Your role in strongly voicing your demand for climate action is incredibly important, because many legislators seem a little “hard of hearing” when it comes to listening to the voice of the people. On the local, state and federal levels, make sure your voice is heard ,loud and clear! I think that any elected official should expect to be voted out of office, if they refuse to heed the will of their constituents, voiced loudly and clearly through the legal democratic process of warrant articles, passed by towns all across our state.
Aside from my extensive work on the House Science, Technology and Energy committee, there are a number of other important issues I have been fighting to advance in Concord. I have introduced two bills to get “dark money” out of our politics. One bill will increase accountability for organizations that skirt NH’s requirements for lobbyists and political organizations to reveal who is paying them. The other establishes penalties for illegal anonymous “in kind” contributions during the 90 days before any NH election, including those annoying “attack ad” mailers that stuff our mailboxes and phone messages days before election day.
A third issue that is important to me is workforce development and training. I have partnered with a Republican legislator to write a truly bipartisan bill to study ways to make industry-funded apprenticeships work better in NH. The idea is that students who can’t afford schooling after high school can get their apprenticeship, training and education paid for by an industry, who will give them a good job if they successfully complete the program. In some ways, it’s not too different from the way ROTC works, combining education, work experience and a paycheck.
I have also advanced a couple of bills for constituents, including streamlining the permitting process for new businesses and protecting loggers as well as landowners from unfair penalties and deceptive practices. David Karrick and I helped get the big communications industries to pay attention to folks’ demands for improved broadband access in parts of Danbury and Salisbury, and there’s finally an agreement in the works.
If you have ever thought “there ought to be a law…”, email or call me (email@example.com or 735-5756) and we can talk about it!
Introduction of HB1414
before the Resources, Recreation and Development Committee on Tuesday Feb 4 at 11am in LOB Room 302
Thank you Chairman Smith, Vice Chairman Maes and fellow Representatives for the opportunity to speak before you today. I thank you in advance for your kind attention.
For the record, I am Rep. Ken Wells of Andover, and I am here to introduce House Bill 1414, with amendment 2020-0xxxh.
This intent of this bill is to reduce the likelihood of timber trespass or theft, and to make certain that the penalties for negligent or willful incursions onto another’s land are shared fairly among the all parties responsible.
I have given the committee copies of RSA 227-J:8 and J:8a, that specify the civil and criminal penalties for timber trespass or theft. The civil penalty is three to ten times the value of the stumpage cut, and the criminal penalties may include permanent loss of license (and consequent loss of livelihood) and even charges of a Class B felony. This seems to always levy the penalty most heavily on those who are least able to afford it, the loggers.
As the statute is written now, only the people actively working in the woods are held responsible, including the forester, the operator and members of the logging crew. If a landowner or landowner’s agent were to mislead the woodsmen about the location of boundaries, or provide a false map or survey, either willfully or negligently, there is no consequence to them under the statute. Such a person is not subject to the penalties under the statute, even if they are culpable. This strikes me as very unfair.
In the language of the bill as introduced, I first thought to remedy this through an affidavit on the Intent to Cut, and then was advised that it might be more appropriate to address it through the terms of the required contract between the landowner and logger. However, I believe this amendment to the language of the penalty section RSA 227-J:8 and J:8a, to include language such as “...or persons...who cause to be cut…” gives authority to the state forester to direct the penalties in the way most appropriate to the circumstances of a particular case.
This is a fairly simple change to the statute, and I hope I have explained it well. I’m very happy to take your questions.
Introduction of HB1186
before the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee on Wednesday Jan 22 at 10am in LOB Room 302
Thank you Chairman Butler, Vice Chairman Williams and fellow Representatives for the opportunity to speak before you today. I thank you in advance for your kind attention.
For the record, I am Rep. Ken Wells of Andover, and I am here to introduce House Bill 1186 - to establish a committee to study the filing of certain organizational income reports with the Secretary of State.
There has been much talk in recent years of “dark money” in the halls of government, in campaign financing and other areas in which the public would like to place their trust. This bill proposes a committee to study the current system for reporting income and related compensation paid to for-profit and to non-profit lobbyist organizations.
The purpose of the proposed committee will be to review documents filed with the Secretary of State under RSA 15:6 to determine whether those documents are indeed accurate and complete, and to ensure that the information provided is consistent with the organization’s stated mission and actions, and consistent with other filings with the department of state/corporate division, and filings with the US Internal Revenue Service.
I have encountered some evidence of such irregularities in my legislative work, and think it extremely likely that others exist. However, I think it inappropriate and ineffective to make allegations today against singular organizations before this committee.
HB1186 calls for a bipartisan committee charged with illuminating instances and mechanisms by which our desire for disclosure and transparency are being foiled, and charged with making recommendations for remedies, would be a tremendous positive step toward strengthening NH’s democracy.
Based on their findings, the proposed committee will make reports and recommendations to SOS and AG. The aim is to improve disclosure, transparency and accountability in the filing of organization income.
So, why is this necessary? Why does NH even have these rules in RSA15:6? The RSA requires lobbyists to divulge who is compensating them for their activities on their behalf, and for spending their valuable time in our committees. (I mean, these meetings are scintillating, and who wouldn’t want to spend all their time here? But seriously, …)
Finally, the overarching aim of this bill is that the legislature needs to evaluate whether the protective measures of the RSA actually work to provide the transparency NH citizens should expect, and do deserve from their government. Accountability is the spine that supports disclosure and transparency.
Thank you Mr Chairman. I’d be happy to answer questions to the best of my ability.
[... answers to anticipated questions, providing more details...]
When I was a kid, I liked to go fishing with my grandfather in his little boat. He taught me that if you want to go fishing, you make as little noise as possible beforehand.
So I don’t really think it is proper at this moment for me to begin the task (or to describe in detail the methods) that the proposed committee is supposed to undertake. But watchdog organizations give NH a D rating for disclosure and transparency, mostly due, I think, to the defects in accountability.
According to an advocacy organization that I hope will be speaking to you shortly, a small number of lobbyists make the lion’s share of campaign contributions to candidates in NH, shielding both their employer and the candidate from the appearance of a potentially embarrassing, unethical or even illegal conflicts of interest.
[...and lot more details…] I learned of an ACLU suit brought against a for-profit trade association. This out-of-state trade association used NH’s permissive registration system to disguise itself as a non-profit consumer advocacy group. This was a sham. The organization’s claim to represent a broad public membership was exposed, once they revealed that they in fact had only a dozen members, companies who paid tens of thousands each in annual membership dues. In spite of this revelation, the organization persists in presenting testimony as a consumer advocacy group. NH needs more accountability.
Above: On Jan 9, 2020, Ken Wells spoke in Representatives Hall about the need for strong climate action.
Ken Wells' Report from Concord
We in the United States have reached a “now or never” moment in dealing with the pollution caused by the generation of electricity, our transportation system and heating our buildings. The answer is not to do without the benefits of modern living, but to do it all differently. You may recall that at one point, the New England economy depended on whales for oil, ships powered by wind, and damming up every river and stream. We’ve moved beyond that. Throughout history, many of the most important moves have not been incremental, but bold, sudden shifts, especially in our choices for energy and transportation. How long was the transition between horses and automobiles? A decade or two? That’s not long, really. It is time for another such move.
A call to action
On both sides of the aisle, there is considerable reluctance among legislators to address the growing climate crisis, not just in NH, but in every state and among federal legislators as well. I find this puzzling: do the representatives really think we place a higher value on our money, than on our children’s future? Or are so many legislators unable to understand what scientists have been warning us about for years? Without the strong urging of their constituents, most representatives are unwilling to take what they perceive as a political risk.
Today, the majority of voters in every NH county favor regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, according to a recent Yale climate survey. (Search “Yale climate survey” to see the reports yourself.) But many Reps don’t seem to understand what many of their constituents already know. They don’t see that the mood of the country has changed after years of record heat, floods and violent storms. Now we’re seeing California and Australia scorched by unprecedented droughts and fires.Our own NH moose have been driven north by the tick infestations caused by milder winters, and the lobsters are retreating northward as New England’s ocean waters warm at three times the global rate.
I felt I needed to speak before my colleagues because many long-serving representatives seem afraid to “rock the boat” and do something they haven’t ever needed to pay attention to in the past. As voters, you have an important job to do, right now. Don’t wait until November. Call, write or email your representatives at the state and US level, and urge them to have the political will and courage to step up and take action on the climate crisis. Tell them to do what you know needs to be done, and why. Sign a petition calling for action. If you’d like to talk to me, my number is 735-5756. I keep tabs on what the people who elected me think.
A busy day in the House
I’ve often heard people ask, “what are they doing down there in Concord?” Here’s what one busy day looks like:
At 10am on January 9, the full House of Representatives filed into Representatives Hall and the session began. As befitting the nation’s largest representative state body (nearly 400 members) - one that has occupied the same spectacularly beautiful chamber for over 200 years - there are traditions that are observed and upheld. The formalities began with a prayer from Rev. Kate Atkinson of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. She officiates frequently, since her church is literally across the street from the State House. Then a representative who has been selected for the honor was asked to lead the House in the Pledge of Allegiance. After that, the “Seacoast Men of Harmony” sang a stirring barbershop version of the Star Spangled Banner. (As a singer, I have an appreciation for a cappella music!)
After the Speaker’s remembrance and moment of silence for those former representative who are recently deceased (including Andover’s own Betty Bardsley), there was a recognition of guests. Usually there are groups of families and fourth grade visitors watching up in the gallery, and all the Reps give them a standing ovation. If you have never been inside Representatives Hall, you should come visit what Speaker Shurtleff calls “the people’s House”. Just walk in the big front door of the State House, bear to the right (past the gift shop) and walk up to the third floor. Follow the corridor all the way around the square floor plan, look at all the portraits of NH heroes and notables, and you will arrive at the gallery, which is open for viewing into Representatives Hall below.
After we observed all the introductory traditions, we began the day’s work. I was given the honor (and the chore) of presenting three speeches as the Science Technology and Energy committee’s spokesperson for three of the five energy bills deliberated and recommended by my committee. If you can imagine yourself in this position, you will understand there’s a pretty strong incentive to research, write, edit and practice your speech well in advance of the moment when the Speaker says to four hundred people, “...and now the gentleman from Andover will speak in favor of the bill...”. You pull a crisply folded paper from your pocket as you step up to the imposing lectern known as “the well”. I’ll admit that I carefully checked and double-checked that I didn’t pull the wrong speech out of my pocket! All three bills passed by at least seventy votes. (Since somebody will surely ask what the bills were about: One bill was about commercial net metering, another was about how energy efficiency funds should be spent, and the third was about setting new goals for renewable energy on the NH grid.)
I was certainly not the only speaker of the day. Twenty-three bills were discussed and voted on. Some passed quickly with just a voice vote, but most were roll call votes, a process that takes about ten minutes. In addition, every bill up for a roll call (when each member’s vote is recorded) usually has at least four representatives speak about it. Those opposed to the bill speak first, followed by a speech recommending passage of the bill. Then there are two “parliamentary inquiries” which are always asked in the following stuffy, formal way to ensure that any Representative not paying close attention is reminded what’s going on: “Mr. Speaker, If I know that Senate Bill 166 will correct a mistake in the language of the statute that has caused competitive electricity suppliers to refuse service to customer-generators, then would I not push the green button to vote “yes” on the passage of this bill?”
The session ran until almost five o’clock, but the House finished all the items on its calendar. After sitting for most of seven hours, I was glad to be going home to Andover, and not driving all the way back to Coös County, like some of my colleagues!
Ken Wells represents Andover, Danbury and Salisbury in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.