Sunday, September 9, 2007

GOP, out of the gate: Obstructionists
Guest Perspective/State Sen. Peter Burling

You don’t have to look hard to see Republican Statehouse leaders, in their new minority role, attacking majority efforts to pass responsible laws. Senate Minority Leader Ted Gatsas has poured out a small river of disparaging misinformation about a number of bills regarding health insurance for dependents, civil unions for same gender couples, and even a plan to lower acceptable lead levels in the blood of New Hampshire’s children. The venom continues about the budget, the first honest and comprehensive budget in years. Such criticism is expected regarding partisan issues and is treated with the appropriate skepticism.

What falls out of tradition is this week’s effort by the Republican minority to take advantage of a clerical error. On Sept. 5, the minority caucus refused to cooperate to fix a simple mistake in the legislative process. By obstructing our efforts to correct an inaccuracy, they have set the state on what will be an expensive and chaotic path towards the premature implementation of a bill. The facts are as follows:

The Senate passed a bill raising the compulsory age for school attendance from 16 to 18, to which the House agreed. The effective date in the original bill was set for 2009 so that school districts have time to arrange alternative programs for students who do not excel in regular classrooms.

Another bill, dealing with a different subject, also passed in both chambers. Due to a clerical error in the drafting process, this other bill appeared to change the effective date of the school age bill.

Such mistakes are not abnormal. In fact, each previous year in memory, at least one similar mistake has been are made. The difference is, in the past, the Democrats always helped to fix the problem by supporting a vote to clarify legislative intent. Unfortunately, on Sept. 5, Republican leadership refused to cooperate by acknowledging the clear legislative intent of the bill and voted to leave the error on the books.

Well, so what? The “so what” is this: the 17 senators who originally voted for the school age bill with a 2009 effective date have been denied the power of their votes. Early implementation of the bill will make it harder for good people to make a good law work. This will only cost our school districts additional money and aggravation. Perhaps worse, an important legislative tradition that we fight over policy but unite for the sake of good process, has been diminished.

One can only wonder why Republicans are putting political posturing ahead of their school districts.

State Sen. Peter Burling is a Democrat from Cornish.

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