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!
Introduction of HB1415-2020-0052h to Election Law Cmte
10:30 am Wednesday Jan 14, 2020 in LOB 308
Thank you Chairman Cote, ViceChair Moynihan 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 1415. As introduced, this bill was to establish a committee to study the Montana Disclose Act of 2015, which prohibits anonymous out-of-state expenditures, including, for example “in kind” attack ad mailings, during the period 90 days preceding elections in Montana. The aim of the committee would have been to see if this Montana provision could be incorporated into NH election law.
The amendment before you, 0052h changes both the title and the body of the bill, and calls for the enactment of such a protection for NH elections, not for the establishment of a study committee.
NH elections should be decided by NH voters, after they have had an appropriate opportunity to discuss, fact-check and deliberate upon the information available to them before they go to the polls. All of us who have mailboxes or a phone line know that the pace of political messaging by junk mail, robocalling and other advertising media, accelerates as election day nears. Not infrequently, late messaging turns negative and destructive to the deliberative democratic process. Unfortunately, some of those last-minute messages may contain sensational and misleading misinformation, are funded by “dark money” originating outside of NH and seeking to manipulate the outcome of our elections by misleading NH voters. If the origin of the misinformation is an anonymous out-of-state entity, there is currently insufficient accountability or recourse to seek civil damages. I think we all agree that this is bad, regardless of our political affiliation.
The amendment before you seeks to amend RSA 664:6 by adding a prohibition on all such anonymous independent expenditures, and provides civil penalties for each violation. The mechanism for doing this demands explicitly that political organizations operating from outside NH be properly registered with the NH Secretary of State, and therefore be not anonymous, if they engage in political advertising in the last 90 days before NH elections. Secondly, it prescribes a civil penalty of $5000 per occurrence, and awards double to triple damages to plaintiffs. (I believe these penalties are exactly the same penalties already existing in section 14a, as applied only to pre-recorded messaging.)
I’m proud to live in a state where there is such a high level of voter involvement and turnout, where there is reasoned political discourse about important topics perennially, and where so many voters profess their independence from either party’s ideologies and prefer to deliberate thoughtfully upon verifiable information, and carefully consider their own values, before heading to the polls.
Let’s help keep our local NH state politics local!
By the way, the Montana Law was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.
Notes for floor speech:
Anonymity creates a shield for wrongdoing. Wrongdoing (like lying and cheating) becomes profitable when there’s no consequence, because there’s no disincentive. With this in mind, I doubt there could be any opposition to a bill that creates a penalty for misleading NH voters.
Floor speech for SB124, Jan 9, 2020
Thank you Mr Speaker. And thank you colleagues for your kind attention.
Mr Speaker, I rise to speak about SB124, which is about the Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS. The aim of the RPS is to encourage an annual steady growth rate of the state’s production of electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, hydro and landfill biogas (which are called Classes I - IV, respectively). Hopefully, many of these renewable energy generators will be in-state NH businesses.
The RPS schedule proposed by SB124 is exceedingly modest, and does not substantially alter the overall trajectory of the portfolio standard. It calls for annual minimum increases of only nine-tenths of one percent in Class I renewables, and 0.9% in Class II renewables. Class III and IV growth remains flat, because our rivers have hydro already, and because we don’t want to incentivize the growth of landfills.
What this bill does do, is update the yearly RPS schedule to eliminate some abrupt changes in the rate schedule over the next few years, and it extends the predictability of the RPS schedule to the year 2040. Abrupt changes are bad for business and for consumers. By eliminating abrupt changes, SB124 makes the future more predictable, which is good for businesses and households, to be able to more confidently predict their energy income and expenses into future decades.
I hope that the predictability proposed by SB124 will garner broad bipartisan support.
Caucus bullet points:
Floor speech for SB166
Thank you, Mr. Speaker
Mr. Speaker, Senate bill 166 is concerned with so-called “competitive suppliers” of electricity, and their so-called “customer-generator” clients. “Competitive suppliers” can be thought of as independent or third-party electricity companies, while “customer-generators” includes electricity consumers, such as NH manufacturers, who (for example) also have legacy hydropower electric generators associated with their mill buildings. They can produce electricity 24/7, even after their production shifts have ended. Shouldn’t they be allowed to sell their surplus electricity?
I believe this bill is very simple and uncontroversial. It corrects a flaw in the language of the existing statute, which requires competitive generation companies to credit customer-generators for the “full retail value” of the electricity returned to the grid. Because “full retail value” includes additional items (such as the Systems Benefits Charge and RPS compliance charges) on top of the billable energy price, competitive generation companies would always lose money, and thus be obliged to refuse such customers.
This bill simply changes the basis of crediting customer generation from a retail dollar amount, to crediting a kilowatt-hour amount of load reduction. SB166 thus solves the flaw, so that competitive suppliers and customer-generators are free to do business with each other.
Main points for caucus:
Ken Wells represents Andover, Danbury and Salisbury in the New Hampshire House of Representatives during the 2018-2020 session.