THE LATEST sordid chapter in the story of rampant abuse at the former Youth Development Center and successor Sununu Youth Services Center is written in the Sunday Boston Globe.
“The state was supposed to rehabilitate them. Instead, hundreds of children were allegedly abused in N.H.,” the page one headline screams.
The long investigative piece opens with Michaela Jancsy, who reveals that she was made pregnant at 16 by a 30-year-old married YDC counselor and that a medical staffer forced her to take two pills to terminate the pregnancy.
Also figuring prominently in the piece is first-term state Rep. Cody Belanger, R-Epsom, who says he was sexually abused while committed there.
“It was essentially a youth prison,” said Belanger, 27. “We felt we weren’t worth anything, that they weren’t even going to listen to our concerns.”
Belanger served on a House-Senate study committee that worked on what should replace the SYSC.
In recent weeks, he’s been outspoken at the State House, first sharing his experiences with the House Children and Family Law Committee, which he serves on, and then on the floor of the House on Thursday.
Belanger’s committee recommended a bill (SB 458), making it highly unlikely juveniles who commit property crimes could be committed to the new juvenile complex.
As a result, the bill changes the SYSC replacement from 18 to six beds.
Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn, R-Windham, strongly objected to that change and tried to remove it.
The House rejected his proposal, 171-160.
From the back of the House chamber, Belanger yelled for a roll call on Lynn’s move before telling the full House he had acted rashly.
“I wanted to take a moment of personal privilege and apologize to my colleagues. At SYSC, I was sexually abused and I get emotional about this topic. I want to apologize and ask you my colleagues accept that apology,” Belanger said.
The House erupted in applause.
The House Special Committee on Redistricting is expected to debate alternative plans to realign the state’s two U.S. House districts when it meets Wednesday.
“I think we can do better,” House Chairman Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, said Friday during a hearing on Gov. Chris Sununu’s plan (SB 200).
Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, was the only one to urge the House panel to adopt Sununu’s proposal.
“This is something right; it’s a vast improvement from the previous plan….I think it’s good as is,” Horrigan said.
The committee’s goal this week is to decrease the population difference between the two districts — 1,431 in Sununu’s plan.
Map-a-Thon expert David Andrews was the first to offer the suggestion made by several at Friday’s hearing.
By swapping Loudon and Epsom in Sununu’s plan, the population difference drops to just over 50 residents.
Of those who spoke, all but Griffin said Sununu’s plan was better than the one (HB 52) he has vowed to veto, but they urged some changes.
Sununu had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t attend the hearing.
A day earlier, the governor lowered the temperature on the issue by sending the committee a letter, conceding his plan wouldn’t pass and vowing to help find common ground.
“I would like to get something else out of this committee next week,” Griffin said.
Garage plan scaled back
Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, is running for the U.S. Senate, but he’s keeping a strong hand in the handling of state finances in the Legislature.
This longtime former chair of the Senate Finance Committee hit the brakes on a fast-moving plan to use state budget surplus to build a $35 million parking garage for legislators.
Instead, the Senate budget panel voted to spend $9.4 million to get all the preliminary work done and deal with the rest of it the next two-year capital budget, which will be worked on in Spring 2023.
The Senate votes on that scaled-down plan (HB 1661) Thursday.
Morse argued this is already a project with built-in phases: demolish the existing decrepit Storrs Street parking garage for legislators and give it back to the City of Concord, raze the former bank building on the new garage site that’s been home for the Department of Justice, and move the DOJ into office space at the former Lincoln Financial building in north Concord.
Also, Morse was the first to say it might make sense for the state to buy rather than lease that office space from mega-developer Brady Sullivan, who bought the property slightly more than a year ago.
The savvy Manchester development group is a trusted source of campaign finance support for Gov. Sununu and legislative leaders.
You may recall when the state declared an old public works garage near the commuter bus station in Concord to be surplus, it was sold to Brady Sullivan despite the city’s interest in the parcel.
There is, however, some level of angst with slow-walking this process.
Many conservative Republicans would rather use cash than have this big project end up blocking other public works programs from finding space in the next capital budget.
Morse said it will take at least six months to design the new garage, and the next Legislature still could decide paying with cash is best.
Dan McGuire of Epsom with Granite State Taxpayers tried to convince lawmakers to do something smaller than what he called a “Taj Mahal” parking garage with costs of up to $80,000 per space.
“We don’t spend this kind of money foolishly,” McGuire told Senate budget writers last week. “Is this really the kind of thing you want to spend money on?”
RNC gears up for fight
The Republican National Committee is turning to a big name to head its election integrity unit here for this big midterm.
Former House Speaker Bill O’Brien has agreed to sign on as its legal counsel for the project.
He’ll assist with volunteer recruitment and work with RNC staff and attorneys to ensure all election laws are followed.
The RNC has already held more than 85 training sessions with 1,300 attending; the RNC targeted and manned 10 key precincts on Town Meeting in March and three other top polling locations that held sessions in April.
“As New Hampshire Speaker of the House, I always fought to keep our elections free, fair and honest and I am proud to continue that mission for the 2022 cycle,” O’Brien said.
You can bet New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley will ensure his side is just as well-armed. Seasoned election law experts William Christie and Paul Twomey, along with others, likely would have roles in that effort.
Former councilor schooled
Less than 16 months ago, Sununu’s popularity at the polls produced a 4-1 Republican majority on the Executive Council.
Last week, the council brushed aside two of his signature plans for the coming year, using $100 million in federal money to expand affordable housing and using grants from Washington for the state to purchase Hampstead Hospital.
Both were tabled. All five councilors said the housing plan lacked detail or a commitment that the money would be spent on affordable and workforce housing and not to build more market-rate units.
“I am hoping the governor brings forward a more detailed proposal that has appropriate guardrails that addresses the real problem we have with housing,” said Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, in a video after the hearing.
A former executive councilor, Sununu took these setbacks in stride, saying he understood it’s part of the “check and balance,” and vowed to put in the work to convince the council to embrace both projects.
No boost in lunch aid
The state Senate last week put the kibosh on up to $60 million more in aid for school districts.
Last month, in an attachment to an unrelated bill, the House voted to have New Hampshire join a pilot project with 27 other states to automatically enroll more low-income families in the subsidized school lunch program (HB 1627).
The fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity and other like-minded organizations charged this could raise education aid by up to $60 million.
“I don’t believe that number,” said state Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, adding that legislative budget experts haven’t weighed in on how much more aid it would provide.
House budget leaders had acknowledged it could lead to a “significant increase” in school aid.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said it would be proper to consider this proposal while writing the next two-year state budget in 2023.
The Senate voted along party lines, 14-10, to strip the idea from the bill, leaving in $115,000 for salary and benefits for an administrator of the state Education Freedom Accounts program.
A school aid boost is still very much in play as the House approved and sent to its Finance Committee a twin package (SB 420).
Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, is championing giving $24 million over the next two years to the income- and property-poorest communities.
House Education Chairman Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, has about a $20 million boost in special education aid to schools with students who have disabilities that cost more to support.
Cozzens out of C.D. race
Littleton beer company owner Jeff Cozzens abruptly pulled out of the Second Congressional District primary race last week, leaving it without a frontrunner.
We’re hearing, however, that Cozzens may have other plans for public service, which could emerge in the coming weeks.
The congressional redistricting battle clearly depressed Cozzens’ ability to raise money for the race.
Embarrassment of riches
Stop us if you’ve read this before, but with a week before the end of another month, revenues pouring into state coffers are well ahead of projections.
April is one of the four big revenue months, and through April 21 the state already had taken in $83 million more than expected.
This generates a revenue surplus of $294 million, according to state accountants.
Senate President Morse is keeping count, however. He told Senate budget writers that by his count the budget already counts on $225 million of the surplus.
“We are approaching our spend limit,” Morse warned.
Last week, the Senate added $28 million to that total, approving a one-time 7.5% subsidy from the state to county and local retirement costs for teachers and public safety employees (HB 1221)
The Senate approved that spending unanimously. But they split, 14-10, with all Senate Democrats opposed, on the other part of the bill, which cuts cut the state’s tax on corporate profits from 7.6% to 7.5%.
House and Senate Democrats still would rather have a permanent 7.5% boost in aid, which is contained in another bill (HB 1417) the Senate has on its next docket.Recreational pot D.O.A.On Thursday, the Senate will vote to kill the unique plan that would have given New Hampshire the first state monopoly to sell recreational marijuana to adults (HB 1598).
Supporters of a far-less ambitious plan (HB 629), allowing home cultivation of pot, will get their final shot at this next Senate meeting.
Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, has been shopping an amendment to this House-passed plan, which has always gone to die in the Senate.
Landfill bill stays alive
Waste companies and some hydrological experts have the knives out, but a House-passed plan to put tougher siting requirements for new landfills is still breathing.
This House-passed bill (HB 1454) would require that an independent review confirm that contamination from a landfill would take at least five years to migrate to a body of water if it went unchecked.
At the public hearing, nearly 200 signed up for the bill with eight, powerful opponents.
As expected, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recommended killing the bill but the Senate hit the pause button.
The bill was moved off to a session on May 5.
Sen. Hennessey has been in a pivotal spot on the issue, working with a bipartisan group of legislators to try and find an agreement.
Ballot deal at hand
The two political parties have fought for the past two years at the State House over election law changes.
But one, the work of Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough, and allies, is about to become reality.
The Senate is set to endorse the bill as passed by the House.
The legislation (HB 1163) would require automatic vote counting machines be programmed to push into a side compartment any ballot on which a voter chose too many candidates for one office.
Election poll workers would have to hand count the ballots that had overvotes.