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Column

Poll a good sign for our state

While approval ratings for Congress in recent years have been dismal, New Hampshire residents generally seem pleased with the recent work of their Legislature. That result was found in the WMUR Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center released last week.

The poll was conducted between July 18 and July 29 on the heels of the passage of the new two-year state budget on June 26. “After crafting a difficult compromise budget for the next biennium,” the Survey Center overview of the poll says, “51 percent of New Hampshire adults approve of how the State Legislature is doing its job, 29 percent disapprove, and 20 percent are neutral or don’t know enough to say.”

Less than a year ago, in October of 2012, just before the election, 45 percent of the public disapproved of the job the Legislature was doing and only 42 percent approved. That suggests the new Legislature has turned around the public perception of the work it is doing.

The poll suggests, and I would agree, that the result of the budget process this year has given citizens increased confidence in legislators to work together and with Gov. Maggie Hassan. The House, with a slim but working majority for the Democrats, and the Senate with a 13 to 11 majority for the Republicans could have dug in and created a stalemate on the budget.

Frankly, there were times I simply did not see how we would get the budget passed. The governor’s budget contained $80 million from a new casino that was speculative at best. And the budget from the governor and the House that went to the Senate contained tens of millions of dollars from the Medicaid enhancement tax that everyone agreed was overstated and completely unrealistic. It was left to the Senate to rework the budget, which we did.

There were areas of concurrence, too. Increased funding for mental health was a priority for everyone. The new budget has about $30 million of new funding over the last budget. At a recent meeting in Newport hosted by West Central Behavioral Health, President Suellen Griffin, told me the new funding is critical to her agency and that funds are already starting to flow to her agency. West Central is one of the state’s 10 regional mental health agencies.

Once the Senate, in its budget, fully funded the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, increased money for higher education and restored the UNIQUE scholarship program for New Hampshire students, support from the governor and the House grew for the Senate’s position on those issues.

But there was strong opposition to the Senate budget over lack of an increase in the gas tax for road and bridge repairs, creation of a study on Medicaid expansion under Obamacare instead of implementing it, and no new increase in the tobacco tax.

There were heated public and private discussions between House and Senate conferees on some of these issues. And Gov. Hassan had been pretty critical of the Senate’s budget although after the House conferees agreed to most of the Senate positions, she praised the budget and signed it.

After all the wrangling over the budget’s major issues, the Senate voted 24 to 0 in favor of the budget. In the 400-member House, there were only 18 votes against the budget.

Frankly, that result is what New Hampshire residents like to see. The Legislature can have all the battles it wants but it needs to make decisions that are in the best interests of the people of the state. Then, residents will approve and be thankful for the legislators’ work.

The approval ratings for the legislature should not cloud the fact we have to deal with some polarizing issues. One has been the requirement that voters, having registered, need to show a photo ID card when they go to vote. A voter ID bill was passed in 2012 and was extended by the legislature in June.

Part of the controversy is over the use of student IDs for identification. It is important to note these IDs are used to prove you are who you say you are in order to vote. It is not to register to vote but once registered to prove you are the person on the voters list.

Even people who lobbied me to vote against requiring IDs on election day have backed away even to the point saying the requirement worked in the last election and was not a burden

for voters or election officials. The WMUR Granite State Poll indicates that “New Hampshire residents strongly support requiring voters to show an ID to vote – 65 percent say an ID should be required to vote, 26 percent don’t think an ID should be required and 9 percent don’t know.” By public opinion and legislative action, with some details to be worked out, voter ID is likely to stay on the books.

Bob Odell, a Republican, is the New Hampshire senator representing Antrim, Bennington and Francestown, among other towns.

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