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Woodburn, Convicted of Assaulting Girlfriend, to Represent Himself In Appeal

Former Democratic leader Jeffrey Woodburn, convicted of physically abusing his ex-fiancée, will represent himself next week as he seeks to reverse his case at a hearing before the state Supreme Court. 

The hearing is set for Tuesday morning. Woodburn is expected to argue he was denied a fair trial because he could not accuse the victim of abuse for trying to take his phone.

Woodburn (D-Whitefield) was the Democrat’s Senate Minority Leader when he was charged in 2018 with nine counts of assaulting his former fiancée. Though he initially resigned as leader, Woodburn clung to his Senate seat for months and members of the Coos County Democratic Committee initially refused to ask him to step down.

The appeal stems from Coos Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein’s ruling that Woodburn could not argue self-defense during the trial. Woodburn was originally charged with nine counts stemming from more than a year of abuse he reportedly directed at the victim.

The convictions are based on Woodburn’s violent actions related to three separate incidents, according to court records. The victim went on the record telling Bornstein that at one point during her many struggles with Woodburn she tried to grab his phone without permission. Bornstein stated in court the attempted grab did not rise to the level of behavior that allows for Woodburn’s self-defense claims.

In the lead-up to the trial, Woodburn leaked the name of the victim to the media by having his attorney, Donna Brown, send unredacted copies of sealed court records to members of the press.

“His lawyer proactively sent copies of unsealed documents to the media,” the alleged victim’s attorney—and former Hillsborough County prosecutor— Patricia LaFrance told NHJournal at the time. “I’ve never seen that in my 16 years as a prosecutor”

Woodburn was sentenced to two years in jail with all but 60 days suspended. He has been out on bail pending his appeal.

New Hampshire Democrats now have the specter of Woodburn’s domestic violence haunting them again a few weeks before the midterm elections. Representatives for the state Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.

Woodburn’s case came at a particularly problematic time for New Hampshire Democrats, during the hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen both opposed the Trump nominee and used unfounded — and in some cases, ludicrous — allegations of sexual assault from Kavanaugh’s high school and college days as a reason to reject him. They were unwilling, however, to publicly criticize Woodburn until months after he was charged with a crime.

Woodburn won the Democratic nomination in 2018 but lost the general election.

The most egregious blow to the victim, critics say, came when a Woodburn paramour who smeared the victim as a “liar” and “sociopath” was given a leadership award by the Manchester Democrats organization.

Sen. Woodburn’s Victim to NH Dems: “I Didn’t Bring This”

Having been forced out of her position as Coos County Democratic Party chairwoman, the former domestic partner of State Sen. Jeff Woodburn–and the alleged victim of his violence–wants her fellow Democrats to know: She’s not the problem.

“My client did not report [Woodburn’s attacks],” her attorney Patricia LaFrance told NHJournal.com “She was contacted by the authorities who asked her if something was wrong, and who told her they had reason to believe something was happening to her. She didn’t bring this. They [the authorities] brought it to her.”

LaFrance pointed out that this information was made public during the recent court hearing on Sen. Woodburn’s criminal domestic violence case, and yet her client is still being punished by the community. “She got an email, sort of like a friendly warning, that her own party was planning–and these were the exact words–“a political lynching” for her,” LaFrance told NHJournal.

“I spent 18 years in a prosecutor’s office, and I know from experience it’s hard enough getting victims of domestic and sexual violence to come forward. To see a woman treated like this…in 2018? It’s unbelievable.”

LaFrance’s client was allegedly forced from her county leadership position over Facebook postings on the Coos County Democratic Party page highlighting the issue of domestic violence and violence against women–a problematic issue when the party’s nominee for state senate is facing criminal charges for allegedly punching and repeatedly biting his former domestic partner.

At an August meeting of the Coos County Democratic Committee after Woodburn’s arrest, his fellow Democrats rejected a motion to call for his resignation. And the New Hampshire Democratic Party says it stands behind their decision to oust his victim from her county chairmanship.

“Let me be clear: The party maintains its decision to withdraw support for the District One nominee (Woodburn),” NH Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement. However, Buckley denied that he or the state Democratic Party had any knowledge of the harassment or threats she has received from local Woodburn supporters.  “Whoever did this was not acting on behalf of, or authorized by, the New Hampshire Democratic Party. We do not support these actions, and as soon as we learn of more details regarding this, we will address them immediately,” Buckley said in his statement.

The NH GOP wasted no time responding.  “The intimidation tactics by Ray Buckley and the Democrat political leadership against this individual are reprehensible,” GOP state party chair Wayne MacDonald said in a statement. The NHGOP also released a series of Facebook screen grabs showing prominent state Democrats like Rep. Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) and Sen. Martha Fuller Clark (D-Portsmouth) celebrating Woodburn’s victory over his female opponent in the September 11th Democratic primary.

 

Woodburn’s case–which involves multiple accounts of domestic assault and violence— comes at an unfortunate time for New Hampshire Democrats, who have been working hard to increase their support among women, have nominated a woman gubernatorial nominee (former state senator Molly Kelly), and have repeatedly attempted to link incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu and the NHGOP to allegations of misogyny and anti-woman attitudes from President Trump and the national GOP.  The tacit support for Woodburn’s candidacy feeds charges of hypocrisy from their GOP counterparts.

Molly Kelly, a political ally of Woodburn’s in the past, hasn’t helped her party’s cause. Though she offered a pro forma call for Woodburn to resign when he was first arrested, she refused to join other Democrats in endorsing or campaigning for Woodburn’s primary opponent.

 

Full-Day Kindergarten Makes It Out of Conference Committee. Drinking Water Bill Dies.

On the last day of conference committee work in the New Hampshire State House, a deal was reached to fund full-day kindergarten, but a bill aimed to improve water quality standards stalled in committee.

A last-minute deal was reached Thursday between GOP members of the House and Senate on using revenue from the lottery game Keno to fund the legislature’s plan for full-day kindergarten, but Democrats no longer support the bill. They say it doesn’t fully fund the program for all cities and towns and local communities are going to be left to pick up the bill. Exactly how much the state would spend per-pupil will depend on how much revenue is raised from taxing Keno.

The amendment presented by Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, guarantees school districts that want full-day kindergarten an extra $1,100 per kindergarten pupil. The state currently offers school districts an “adequacy grant” for half-day kindergarten of $1,800 per student, which is half of the $3,600 for students in grades 1-12. About 75 percent of the school districts in the state have already adopted full-day kindergarten using local property taxes to pay for it.

Democrats wanted the second half day of kindergarten to be fully funded at $1,800 per student in exchange for support on legalizing and regulating Keno. However, Republicans were cautious to do that out of concern that Keno would not generate enough revenue to support the full amount.

The amendment guarantees that at least $1,100 will go to funding full-day kindergarten since they are confident enough Keno revenue will be raised to do that. The state will fully fund the program at $1,800 if Keno revenues are enough. If not, the grants will be pro-rated per community at an amount between $1,100 and $1,800 depending on the exact amount that is raised from Keno.

Gov. Chris Sununu has made full-day kindergarten a priority for his first term in the Corner Office. While funding negotiations have constantly changed over the past few months in the State House, he applauded the deal lawmakers made and said it was a “first step” in getting the program fully funded.

“This is not a time for partisan politics, we need to get this done,” he said in a statement. “This is one of the most transformative pieces of legislation, and more progress for kindergarten than this state has ever seen.  As revenues increase, the amount of funding can increase for kids. It is not only a first step, it is a real plan that funds full-day kindergarten across every community in this state.”

But Democrats say this isn’t the deal they agreed on. Senate Democrats called it a “shell game.”

“Senate Democrats have been leading on Kindergarten for years, and we are glad Governor Sununu has at least attempted to follow our example. But, today’s failure to support full-day kindergarten like any other grade while giving even more tax cuts for the wealthy elite is a major disappointment and once again demonstrates Governor Sununu’s failure to lead,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand called the “kenogarten” policy “disingenuous.”

Former 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Colin Van Ostern was active on Twitter to express his disappointment that the deal reached in the conference committee didn’t guarantee full funding of kindergarten at the $1,800 level.

The full-day kindergarten bill is expected to pass in the House and Senate next week.

A separate bill that would lead to stronger standards for a toxic chemical in more than 200 communities’ drinking water ultimately died in committee.

The bill would have required the Department of Environmental Services to set a standard for a group of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals or PFCs. The state currently uses the federal government recommendation of 70 parts per trillion, but other states have set tougher standards.

The conference committee couldn’t agree on the bill due to concerns that it could require towns to make expensive upgrades to their water systems. The defeat of the bill in the legislative session saw both Republicans and Democrats disappointed that it failed.

“I am very disappointed House Republicans rejected drinking water standards that protect the public health, particularly prenatal and early childhood health,” said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord. “Just like on the budget, Republicans have caved to the know-it-all wealthy elite and big corporations at the expense of everyday Granite Staters – folks who just want clean drinking water for them and their children.”

According to recent research from the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University, New Hampshire is tied with Alabama as having the second worst PFC contamination of drinking water in the country.

Sen. Dan Innis, R-New Castle — a sponsor of the bill — said it was a “common sense piece of legislation.”

“I am deeply disappointed that the House was unwilling to come to an agreement to better protect the citizens of my district and around the state from the growing concern about the quality of our drinking water,” he said. “This critical legislation will be the first bill that I file in the fall. It is imperative that we quickly come to an agreement to address this pressing issue for the Granite State.”

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House, Senate Finalize State Budget in Conference Committee. Full Votes to Come Next Week.

After four days of back-to-back negotiations between the New Hampshire House and Senate, lawmakers on the state budget conference committee finally decided Wednesday on an $11.7 billion two-year spending plan. Although its widely expected to pass the Senate, there is still a chance that it could fail in the volatile House.

“This is a budget the legislature and the people of New Hampshire can be proud of,” said House Speaker Shawn Jasper after the committee approved the final version of the budget. “This budget provides resources to address the opioid crisis, mental illness, and domestic violence, includes several reforms to state government, and keeps spending in check. We’ve achieved a balance that ensures our citizens will have access to services they need while reducing the tax burden.”

Whether it will garner enough Democratic or conservative votes remains to be seen. Democrats claim Republicans are not spending all of the revenue available to the state and criticize that a workforce training proposal, known as Granite Workforce, was cut from the budget. It would have provided training and wage subsidies for certain types of workers since the state is dealing with a worker shortage.

“Democrats have made it very clear: we will not support a budget that asks working people to dig further into their wallets while the elite get more handouts,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn. “Unfortunately, our efforts to stand up for everyday people have been rejected at every turn. The reality is that this Trump-like, Republican budget agreement caves to the wealthy elite and ignores those who are most in need.”

Also, Democrats still don’t like that language was added to the budget that prohibits the state from giving money to health care facilities to provide abortions, which indicates that House Democrats are most likely not going to vote in favor of the budget in the full session next week.

State Reps. Al Baldasaro, R-Nashua, and Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham, brought up that issue on Twitter.

Little has changed from the Senate version of the budget passed last month, with a few notable exceptions. The new budget includes an amendment mandating new work requirements for people enrolled in the state’s expanded Medicaid program. Low-income adults would have to work, attend job training, or go to school for at least 20 hours per week to qualify for the New Hampshire Health Protection Program. If the federal government rejects the work requirement, as it did last year, expanded Medicaid would end by 2018.

Some advocacy groups, like New Futures — which focuses on mental health, substance abuse, and children issues — were critical that an amendment in the budget would allow the governor to divert money away from the state’s Alcohol Fund, which is used for substance abuse treatment, prevention, and education programs. The governor would be allowed to reach into the fund to help pay for operations at the state’s juvenile detention center in case of emergencies after approval from the fiscal committee.

“Weakening the addiction treatment system in the midst of New Hampshire’s devastating opioid crisis will place the lives of people struggling with addiction at risk,” said Linda Saunders Paquette, CEO and president of New Futures. “This irresponsible decision by the committee cannot be overstated, and will be felt for years to come, as our public health crisis will only intensify without long-term sustainable investments.”

The budget includes cuts to the state’s businesses profits tax and business enterprise tax, but lawmakers also eliminated the electricity consumption tax, which generates about $5.5 million for the state each year.

“This budget also eliminates the Electric Consumption Tax, helping our state move in the right direction to reduce the burdensome electric rates paid for by homeowners and businesses,” said Senate Finance Chair Gary Daniels, R-Milford. “By making changes that will result in lower monthly bills, we put money back in our employer’s pockets and create an improved, lower cost state to run a business.”

With these tax cuts, House GOP leadership is hopeful that enough members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus join in supporting the budget. The caucus still has concerns that the state spending levels are too high, indicating that some of its members will probably vote against it.

The House needs a majority to pass the budget and they need conservative support in order to do that. Jasper said he is optimistic the budget will get passed in the House next week. Behind the scenes, top GOP officials are starting to whip votes in order to make sure that it happens.

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Senate Passes State Budget, But There Could Be Trouble Ahead in the House

In a 10-hour marathon session, the Republican-led Senate approved an $11.8 billion state budget, defeating all Democratic attempts to increase spending in mental health, social services, and education. The budget ultimately passed on a 14-9 party line vote.

The spending plan changed very little from what the Senate Finance Committee put forward, but concerns and praise for the budget fell on party lines. Republicans applauded the money going to help the mental health crisis in the state, but Democrats disagree, saying the budget doesn’t fund critical social services.

Some of the budget’s highlights include expanding mental health treatment beds, creating a new student scholarship program, and cutting the state’s business taxes.

“What we’ve developed is a budget that serves the citizens of New Hampshire, but lives within our means,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Gary Daniels. “I believe we have achieved an appropriate balance between the two and we’ve done a lot to get us to this point.”

Democrats put forward more than two dozen amendments to increase funding for child protective services, adding nurses to New Hampshire Hospital, making Medicaid expansion permanent, funding full-day kindergarten, and increasing the budget for the state university system. They argue that the state can spend an additional $45 million since the budget’s revenue estimates are too low.

“It creates an artificial, trumped-up surplus to sell the biggest Republican ruse of all, that slashing taxes for the rich will grow revenues and improve lives for poor, middle-class people,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn.

“I recognize and respect my colleagues who think it’s not enough or some would suggest even never enough, but on the other hand, Mr. President, you know there are people like me who are always very concerned that maybe it’s always too much,” responded Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford.

On a few amendments, a couple of GOP senators sided with Democrats, but it was not enough for the measure to be adopted. For example, Republican Sens. Sanborn and Ruth Ward of Stoddard voted with Democrats to roll back proposed health care premium increases for state retirees, but it failed on a 12-11 vote. In another 12-11 vote, GOP Sens. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead and Harold French of Franklin voted with Democrats to add $6 million in additional education aid grants to public schools, but that measure also failed.

Heated debate between the two parties occurred, as expected, on the business tax cuts in the budget blueprint. An old debate flared up over abortion policy, though, when an eleventh-hour Republican amendment was introduced to block state and federal funds from going to centers that offer abortion services.

“This is about controlling women’s health choices, plain and simple, and this is about merging church and state,” said Sen. Martha Hennessy, D-Hanover.

Tensions remained high as Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, raised his voice in response to Hennessy.

“Forcing people to violate their conscience with their tax dollars, that is hateful,” he said. “I challenge anyone in here to tell me in any constitution where I am forced to pay for somebody’s abortion, show it to me.”

Hennessy said the amendment was an attack on her rights, while Republicans argue it’s just codifying what’s already happening.

“Could you imagine the men in this room if we snuck in some amendment about how the government shouldn’t pay for Viagra?” Hennessey said.

The amendment ultimately failed, 17-6. Democrats also tried unsuccessfully to eliminate a reference to the so-called Hyde Amendment that outlaws spending public dollars on abortions, in order to prevent any future cuts to Planned Parenthood.

With the Senate’s approval, the biennium budget is sent to the GOP-led House. Yet, there are some concerns from conservatives who are threatening to oppose the plan because it spends too much. The chamber is likely to call for a conference committee of senators and representatives to compromise on various issues within the budget, despite the House failing to pass their own plan earlier this year.

Red flags that House conservatives were not entirely pleased with the budget were first raised during a Tuesday budget information session.

“I’m opposed to this budget as it currently stands, and I am going to work to defeat it,” said Rep. James McConnell, R-North Swanzey, who is also a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

The House Freedom Caucus helped sink the chamber’s budget this year, making it the first time since at least 1969 that the House failed to produce a spending plan.

Yet, it’s still too early to tell if the caucus will try to defeat the Senate budget. In an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, and co-chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said the Senate proposal is an improvement.

“They’ve made some great changes in terms of improvements — cutting the business taxes is a good example, funding the charter schools is another good example, so there are positive steps forward,” he said. “Some of us are still concerned that it spends more than we’re comfortable with and that’s…put us in a stalemate almost. The overall increase in government size is bigger than a number of us are conformable with.”

Hoell sent an email to caucus members after a meeting this week, saying the group is hopeful that their needs will be met in the conference committee.

Republicans only hold a slim majority in the House and a handful of defections could defeat the budget if Democrats also oppose it. They have largely criticized the GOP-budget, but some could side with Republicans out of fear of not getting anything passed.

The budget process needs to be over by June 30 before the start of the next fiscal year. If a budget is not passed by then, lawmakers would need to pass a continuing resolution, which would fund the government at its current levels until a full budget is passed.

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Price, Conway Visit New Hampshire to Reaffirm Trump’s Commitment to Ending Opioid Crisis

The latest stop in Tom Price’s opioid crisis listening tour brought the health and human services secretary to the New Hampshire State House on Wednesday. He wasn’t alone, though. Always near him was Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump. They were joined by Gov. Chris Sununu, state Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, among other treatment providers, law enforcement, first responders, and families who have been impacted by the substance abuse crisis.

The meeting in Concord only lasted about an hour and members of the press were not allowed to be in the Executive Council chambers where the listening session took place. Afterwards, Price and Conway went to Manchester Fire Department to learn about the city’s Safe Station program. Press were also kicked out at first, but were then invited back in.

At a press conference after the listening session, Price said solving the opioid crisis is a priority for the Trump administration and his visit was a chance to see how states are dealing with it at the ground level.

“The Department is all in, the President is all in,” he said. “He has such passion for this issue, because he knows the misery and the suffering that has occurred across this land, and wants to help, help solve it.”

Price points to the recent $3.1 million in funds — with more money on the way — being sent to New Hampshire as evidence of the administration’s commitment to getting more resources out into the field.

Yet, more funds are needed for the Granite State, which has the second-highest overdose deaths per capita in the country. Nearly 500 people have overdosed on drugs in 2016. New Futures, a nonprofit focused on the opioid crisis, released a report Monday that found substance misuse costs the state’s economy about $2.36 billion each year.

Sununu praised the White House for its “tremendous” effort in reaching out to the states to see what they think of certain policies and solutions to combat opioid misuse.

“This administration has provided a great philosophy in that they want to set a foundation and a platform for good policy out of Washington but they look to the states to implement it,” he said. “Unlike the previous administration where Washington was going to implement and control everything, they want the states to be the implementers.”

However, Democrats are blasting the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the American Health Care Act, which would make major changes to Medicaid expansion. Democrats argue that the bill would weaken funding for federal programs to battle the drug epidemic.

Just before Price and Conway’s arrival, protesters staged a “die-in,” laying on the floor in the hallways of the State House, holding up signs that said, “Trump lied, I died” and “I died for a billionaire’s caviar.”

Democrats held their own press conference while Price and Conway met with New Hampshire leaders, criticizing Sununu for holding a closed-door meeting.

“New Hampshire won’t stand for a plan where premiums skyrocket, benefits shrink, and thousands are booted off [health care] coverage,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn.

Price said Trump is committed “to make certain that every individual has access to the kind of coverage that they want for themselves and for their family.”

“I think it’s important to step back and say is the Medicaid program the most appropriate program for every individual in that economic setting,” he added. “Is there a better way to provide coverage? Is there a better way to provide services? Whatever the answer to that is the president is committed and we’re committed to making certain every single American has a seamless transition.”

He vowed “that nobody falls through the cracks. That no rug is pulled out from anybody and that we make certain that the coverage and the care is available to every single American.”

Sununu said he had “some severe reservations” about the House’s health care bill, but he appreciates “the progress the House made.”

“We have to move that ball forward,” he said. I do have reservations in some areas when you look at the details. But people have to understand this is simply one part of the process. The Senate is going to go through their process. It shows that Congress isn’t stalled, not stagnated. They’re not going to do nothing. I think we’ve had eight years of a lot of do nothing. They’re doing something and they’re standing up for the American people.”

Conway said the opioid epidemic should be a bipartisan issue that Democrats and Republicans solve together.

“We look at this as a non-partisan issue in need of a bipartisan solution,” she said. “And we are working with people on both sides of the aisle in Washington and within each of the states to do exactly that.”

However, there are instances of disagreement between Republicans, especially on the American Health Care Act. It also appears that New Hampshire leaders and the White House aren’t always on the same page.

Several media outlets reported that the Trump administration was contemplating a 95 percent cut for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which houses the agency’s high-intensity drug trafficking program and drug-free communities support program. Officials dismissed the claims and reaffirmed Trump’s support for ending the opioid crisis. Sununu called the reports “very disconcerting.”

Price and Conway did not mention the national drug czar’s office during their visit. While New Hampshire is one of the hardest hit states of the drug epidemic, it appears an official from the state has not been invited to sit on the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, leaving many to question how committed Trump is to fulfilling his campaign promise.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is chairing the commission, and it was announced Wednesday that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island will also serve on the commission. Bertha Madras, a former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, will also work on the commission, but no one from the Granite State.

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A Look Into the Voter Fraud, Election Law Debate in New Hampshire

A Democratic member of the Federal Election Commission isn’t going to let President Donald Trump go without providing evidence that there was voter fraud during the 2016 presidential election in New Hampshire.

In yet another letter to Trump, FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub is asking Trump to provide proof of his claim that thousands of Democratic Massachusetts residents were bused to the Granite State on election day to illegally vote against him.

“This allegation of a vast conspiracy, involving thousands of people committing felony criminal acts aimed at stealing the election, has deeply disturbed citizens throughout America,” she wrote in a Wednesday letter. “I have heard from many of them, including proud and patriotic New Englanders who are shocked by the allegation and feel that it impugns their historic role in our democracy.”

She also called on Trump in February to provide evidence for his voter fraud claim.

This latest letter adds fuel to the fire of what’s already been a heated debate between Republicans and Democrats in New Hampshire when it comes to the state’s election laws. In fact, the Senate is close to voting on a major bill that would close several of the state’s voting law loopholes, according to Republicans.

The legend of Massachusetts voters busing into the Granite State to cast a ballot in our elections is not a new tale, but here’s a quick timeline of events that led to this sweeping legislation:

  • A few weeks after the election, when Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he tweeted, “Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California — so why isn’t the media reporting on this? Serious bias — big problem!” Trump won the Electoral College, but lost New Hampshire to Clinton by about 2,700 votes.
  • Before Trump’s tweet, and about a week before the election, then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu, told radio host Howie Carr that Democrats abuse New Hampshire’s same-day voter registration, and “when Massachusetts elections are not very close, they’re busing them in all over the place.” Politifact rated his claim as “Pants on Fire.”
  • This led to backlash from Granite State officials, including the state’s attorney general and secretary of state’s offices, who wanted to quell fears that New Hampshire elections are illegitimate.
  • After the election, Sununu said he was not aware of any “specific evidence of voter fraud.”

Yet, it didn’t stop there. Trump kept talking about voter fraud even after his presidential inauguration.

  • During a closed-door meeting between Trump, former N.H. Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and 10 other senators to discuss U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Trump reportedly started the meeting by discussing the election and voter fraud.  He claimed that he and Ayotte would have both won in the Granite State if not for the “thousands” of people who were “brought in on buses” from Massachusetts to “illegally” vote in New Hampshire.
  • Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, made the claim again in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.” He said: “This issue of busing voters in to New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics. It’s very real, it’s very serious.”
  • Even recently, in a TIME Magazine interview published Thursday, Trump stood by his claim that three million undocumented people voted in the national election. He said: “Well now if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and or/illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people. In fact I’m forming a committee on it.”

Many Republicans and Democrats are upset that Trump is pushing a false narrative and is making people question the integrity of the democratic voting process. However, his statement perfectly illustrates what his supporters and several Republicans believe is the problem with election laws in New Hampshire: The current laws make it difficult to charge anyone with voter fraud because what’s legal here is usually illegal in another state.

Hence, Senate Bill 3, which was introduced by Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, to address a lot of those concerns. Of course, the bill is divided on party lines — it’s cheered by Republicans who say they are trying to tighten the process and ensure that those who vote in New Hampshire actually live in New Hampshire and criticized by Democrats who say the bill is a form of voter suppression.

One of the issues it focuses on is the definition of domicile, which varies from state to state, and the New Hampshire Legislature is trying to better define the difference between “domicile” and “residence” in this bill. Under current laws, the definition of domicile is “that place, to which upon temporary absence, a person has the intention of returning.” Republicans think that’s vague and allows campaign workers, who might be in the state for a month or so, to vote in New Hampshire, even if they plan on leaving after the election.

An incident occurred in the 2008 and 2012 elections when Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, allowed Democratic staffers to live at her home. The staffers used her address to vote in the election, and since they were living in the state for at least three months before the election, the Attorney General ruled that it was legal.

Under the new bill, a person who registers to vote within 30 days of an election or on Election Day must show verification that a New Hampshire address is his or her domicile. That can be done by showing proof of residency at a college or university, driver’s license, utility bill, among other forms. Those who do not show documentation can still register and vote by filling out a domicile affidavit and registration form, and provide the documentation within 10 or 30 days of Election Day, depending on the community. Someone could get charged with voter fraud if they fail to provide a document verifying his or her domicile within that window.

A previous version of the bill called for police officer to knock on doors to verify a voter’s domicile, but that provision was taken out this week. The bill still allows municipal officials to visit those addresses or ask “agents” to do so.

The Senate Election Law Committee recommended Tuesday in favor of the bill by a 3-2 vote on party lines and it now heads to the full Senate for a vote.

Adding to the controversy, the Attorney General’s office recently said investigations into thousands of affidavit voters who cast ballots in New Hampshire without identification during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles have been dropped due to the lack of manpower and money to complete the investigations.

How can the Attorney General and Secretary of State’s office say there is no evidence of voter fraud if they aren’t investigating every potential violation? That’s what Republicans are asking.

Sununu’s budget didn’t fulfill the attorney general’s request for roughly $93,000 annually to hire a full-time elections investigator. A Senate bill would provide about $500,000 to the Attorney General’s office for with focus on elections, lobbying, and campaign finance law. That bill passed the Senate and is now in the House Finance Committee.

“No matter how you change it, there is not a problem in the state of New Hampshire,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn. “There’s been a ruse of illegal voting, and Trump buses, and all of this business. This is nothing but a concerted national attempt to suppress voting and harass voters.”

“This is not national trend legislation,” Birdsell said this week. “This is homegrown here. It is something that is trying to address what some of our constituents are looking for.”

The debate on this bill, and the discussion of voter fraud in New Hampshire, is far from over.

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What Trump’s Budget Proposal Means for New Hampshire

Although it’s just a budget blueprint, President Donald Trump’s proposal that was released Thursday has already made waves in New Hampshire. It’s hardly a done deal, though, and the president’s budget is usually just a suggestion or a statement of policy they want to see done. Now, the House of Representatives, the body who has the real power of the purse, will draft its plan and the budget process kicks off from there.

Overall, Trump wants to increase defense spending, and in order to offset that bump in funding, he is proposing $54 billion in cuts to other domestic programs. Those cuts are already being criticized in the Granite State because several of the programs he wants to slash would impact the people who rely on or utilize those funds from the federal government.

Here’s what Trump’s budget proposal means for the programs and people in New Hampshire:

 

MEALS ON WHEELS

The senior nutrition program has become the poster child for the impact of Trump’s budget proposal. Even U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., was in the state on Monday visiting the Strafford Nutrition Program (SNP) in Somersworth criticizing the president for wanting to slash funding for Meals on Wheels.

“This is not, and should never be, politicized,” she said at a roundtable event. “These programs are for everybody, men and women who have worked and have found themselves either disabled or old or poor or all of the above, who need nourishment, and we have to be there for them.”

Jaime Chagnon, the director of SNP, said she would have to cut 2,500 meals from her program if they lost their federal funding. About 80 percent of their revenue comes from state contracts, which are in large part funded by federal grants, she said.

Yet, Trump’s budget doesn’t specifically call for the elimination of the Meals on Wheels program. It cuts Community Development Block Grants, which fund about 3 percent of the national Meals on Wheels program. The national program relies heavily on donations. At the local level, though, Chagnon said the percentage is likely much higher.

However, Trump’s budget — known as a “skinny budget” — is a first outline, and it’s largely silent on the senior nutrition program. Expect Meals on Wheels to be in the spotlight as more specifics and later versions of the budget come out.

 

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANTS (CDBG)

As mentioned, Trump’s proposal calls for the elimination of these grants, which provide communities with grants for economic development and housing projects.

The Granite State received $8.7 million in CDBG for a number of programs ranging from Meals on Wheels to upgrading sidewalks.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said last month in his proposed budget for the Queen City that if CDBG were to continue, they would support programs such as the Boys & Girls Club, City Year, and the Queen City Bike Collective.

Those grants have also been used extensively in the North Country. For example, Berlin used a $500,000 CBDG to assist Capone Iron North Wood to begin operations in the city. The city also received three grants for a total of $1.35 million for its Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, which assisted more than 90 homes, including for the elderly, disabled, and low-income, to improve or upgrade their properties.

 

LOW-INCOME HOME ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (LIHEAP)

LIHEAP is one of the more far reaching programs in the state that would feel the effects of a Trump budget. The program helps heat the homes of thousands of low-income Granite Staters, nearly 28,000 actually, and received more than $25 million in federal funds for the current fiscal year, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Trump’s budget blueprint called LIHEAP “a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.”

The funding is through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is expected to see a 16.2 percent cut in funds, or $12.6 billion less than last fiscal year. The state Office of Energy and Planning administers LIHEAP and contracts with Community Action Agencies for on-the-ground work.

In the North Country, over 6,000 households in Coos County and northern Grafton and Carroll Counties, received assistance through the program from the Tri-County Community Action Program, according to the Berlin Daily Sun.

 

NORTHERN BORDER REGIONAL COMMISSION (NBRC)

The elimination of this program probably received the most criticism from New Hampshire’s Democratic congressional delegation.

Trump’s budget cuts this commission, which was set up to invest in the economy and infrastructure in the North Country, but also in Maine, Vermont, and New York. From 2010 to 2015, the commission invested $3.3 million in New Hampshire projects.

“The Commission has also provided important funding for treatment and recovery services in the region as we work to combat the heroin, fentanyl, and opioid crisis,” said U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan in a statement. “Eliminating the Northern Border Regional Commission would be harmful to the infrastructure needs and economic development efforts in the region, and I will fight strongly to ensure that these cuts never happen.”

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster echoed similar sentiments. Even N.H. Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn from the North Country weighed in on the budget and the elimination of the NBRC.

“We need to make smart investments in order to expand opportunity for all, support businesses throughout our state, and lay the foundation for a new generation of economic growth,” he said in a statement. “I’m very disappointed with the amount of harm that President Trump’s budget proposal will cause to NH’s North Country and urge our Congressional delegation and Governor [Chris] Sununu to oppose the elimination of this vital Commission in the Trump budget.”

 

NOAA FUNDING

Several environmental officials were concerned that Trump’s budget cuts would end several of their programs that they say are crucial to coastal industries and research.

Programs including the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and New Hampshire Sea Grant are at risk of being defunded due to Trump’s proposed 17 percent budget cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Conservation and coastal research officials say they are concerned the National Estuary Program, New Hampshire Coastal Program and Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership are also poised to lose funding, according to The Portsmouth Herald.

 

DEFENSE, VETERANS AFFAIRS

So who is poised to actually benefit from Trump’s proposed budget? Well, if you work in the defense industry or veteran’s affairs, then those areas would see an increase in funds.

Specifically, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would see a 6 percent bump, or $4.4 billion, and Department of Defense would receive a 10 percent increase, or more than $52 billion.

In New Hampshire, that means defense contractors, like BAE Systems in Nashua or Manchester, and gun manufacturers, such as Sig Sauer, could see more work in the future. Sig Sauer recently won a $580 million, 10-year contract with the U.S. Army to manufacture pistols.

The question remains, though, if these industries see more money, how much of an impact would that have on the state’s economy?

Also, many policy experts say Trump’s budget outline is shifting a lot of funding obligations to the state. If the state doesn’t have the means, they could put that on the cities and towns, with many rural communities, who heavily voted for Trump in November, footing the bill.

“President Trump campaigned on the promise that he would look out for those in rural, economically-disadvantaged areas like the North Country, but instead, his budget proposal stabs them in the back,” Woodburn said. “Instead of supporting efforts to bring new jobs to the North Country, his budget puts corporate special interests ahead of the hard-working people of New Hampshire.”

Everyone will be waiting to see what of Trump’s blueprint ends up in the House’s version of the budget and how Trump supporters react to the potential shift in cost to the communities.

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Could There Be a Legal Battle if Towns Postpone Tuesday’s Elections?

Monday was supposed to be the calm before the storm, but in New Hampshire politics, the day was muddled with confusion over the legality of towns’ rights to postpone Tuesday’s elections due to the impending blizzard.

The day started with Secretary of State William Gardner saying, “We don’t have snow days in the law for elections.”

Yet, town officials throughout the state were taking matters into their own hands and postponing the annual “second Tuesday in March” elections for later in the week after the snowstorm subsided. Reasons for postponement were mostly due to ensuring the safety of residents and first responders from hazardous road conditions. Some parts of the state are expected to receive between 10 to 20 inches on Tuesday.

The secretary of state’s office maintained its position that by state law, towns are required to hold elections regardless of the snow and expected blizzard conditions. If they don’t, there could be legal consequences. Town officials say a different state law allows them to change the day of the election in an emergency situation.

“I don’t know what the consequences will be,” Paula Penney, elections assistant at the secretary of state’s office, told The Portsmouth Herald. “If they don’t have the election tomorrow, it may end up in superior court. But I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t have any indication that (the office’s) position will change.”

The two laws in question are RSA 669:1 and 40:4. RSA 669:1 is the law the secretary of state’s office was citing as requiring towns to hold the election, regardless of the snow. The law states:

“All towns shall hold an election annually for the election of town officers on the second Tuesday in March…”

RSA 40:4 is cited by the towns for giving them the flexibility to change the date of election in the event of an emergency. This law states:

“In the event a weather emergency occurs on or before the date of a deliberative session or voting day of a meeting in a town, which the moderator reasonably believes may cause the roads to be hazardous or unsafe, the moderator may, up to 2 hours prior to the scheduled session, postpone and reschedule the deliberative session or voting day of the meeting to another reasonable date, place, and time certain.”

So which interpretation is right? Some legal experts said it’s not exactly clear if that law refers to voting for races in elections or voting for budget and other town issues at traditional town hall meetings.

John Greabe, a law professor at the University of New Hampshire, told NH Journal that the specific rule would “govern over” the general rule.

“It’s not uncommon for there to be two statutes that seem to be at odds with each other,” he said. “It’s a traditional approach to the conflict of laws where there is a more specific rule and a more general rule. It’s common for courts to go with the more specific rule.”

Cordell Johnston, government affairs council with the New Hampshire Municipal Association, said the organization sides with the towns.

“I don’t think there is any inconsistency in the law,” he told NH Journal. “We believe it’s very clear that they [towns] could move the election.”

He mentioned that a group of municipal lawyers on a list-serv “overwhelmingly” agreed that the moderator has the clear authority to reschedule the election.

With significant confusion surrounding the issue, Gov. Chris Sununu weighed in on debate. He spoke with municipal leaders and Attorney General Joe Foster in a Monday afternoon conference call encouraging them to hold elections, but said the state would not mandate them to do it.

“It’s our understanding that a lot of towns have already made a choice to postpone their elections,” he told reporters. “There are some differing opinions at the state level as to whether that is a valid process for them to take. The best we can do is to strongly recommend that all towns stay open for voting tomorrow. We think that’s a very important part of the process. But given the differing opinions, I don’t think we’re in a position to mandate that towns stay open or change their direction if they choose not to.”

Sununu cautioned town officials that if they postpone Tuesday’s elections, they are doing so “at their risk,” suggesting the town could be open to lawsuits for voter suppression.

“It would create a lot of confusion if one town voted on a school issue and another town did not, and you get into an issue of do you release the results and how is that processed,” he said. “You never want someone to have their vote suppressed, or have someone not be able to participate in the process because of confusion at the local level.”

Johnston said he interpreted Sununu’s message that “the state would not challenge a town’s decision to reschedule,” but an individual voter could.

“What I imagine could happen, although unlikely, a voter who is not happy about how things played out, would go to court and claim that the moderator violated his or her authority in rescheduling the vote,” he said. “But because the law is really clear, I don’t think the challenge will go that far.”

In order to make the interpretation very clear, and to avoid confusion like this in the future, New Hampshire Democratic leaders are planning to introduce emergency legislation this week to ensure that results from any town elections postponed due to snow are enforceable.

Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn and House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff released a statement announcing their plan to introduce legislation Wednesday during the Senate Rules and Enrolled Bills Committee:

“As elected officials, we have a solemn duty to ensure the safety of our citizens and no election should require voters to risk their safety in order to participate. Our election workers and town moderators are well-trained and take the task of facilitating transparent and fair elections seriously. We should trust them to make the best decision for their communities and for the safety of their people. That’s why we will attempt to introduce emergency legislation at this week’s Senate Rules Committee meeting to ensure that results from any elections postponed due to public safety concerns are enforceable and so that our local officials can make the right decision for their communities without fear of a legal challenge.”

Sununu agreed that the Legislature should take action to resolve the conflicts in state law, but it’s unclear if he will support the Democrats’ bill when it is introduced.

Is your local election and town meeting postponed? Check out the rolling list here as town officials make the decision.

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The Facts Behind Sununu, Lawrence Mayor’s Fight Over Opioid Crisis

It’s not often where there is a war of words between a governor and a mayor of neighboring state. Yet, that’s what happened last week between New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Mayor Daniel Rivera of Lawrence, Mass., when discussing who’s to blame for the Northeast’s growing opioid crisis.

“It’s coming from Lawrence,” Sununu said Wednesday at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce breakfast. “Eighty-five percent of the fentanyl in this state is coming straight out of Lawrence, Massachusetts.”

He also pointed to Lawrence again in an interview later that day with Boston Herald Radio, saying the city’s status as a “sanctuary city” is causing problems for New Hampshire.

Sununu said he had a meeting with other New England governors when they met in Washington D.C. for the National Governors Association annual winter meetings.

“I sat down with [Massachusetts Gov.] Charlie Baker and all the governors from the New England regions and said we’re going to cross borders, you better get ready,” Sununu said. “I’m working with the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] in Bedford, working with the DEA in Boston, our state police, their state police.”

Sununu then vowed that “we’re going in.”

“We’re going to get tough on these guys, and I want to scare every dealer that wants to come across that border,” he said. “We’re not giving dealers nine months on parole and probation anymore. We’re putting them away for the five, 10 and 15 years that they deserve.”

Sununu’s “tough on drugs” rhetoric makes sense — albeit an interesting political move to pick a battle with a town in another state. He’s the first Republican governor in 12 years and the opioid crisis is still rampant in New Hampshire. He campaigned on the epidemic being the number one priority the state faces and depending on what he does to curb the crisis in his two-year term, could be a factor in his 2018 reelection campaign.

Despite several media reports about the subsequent back-and-forth between Sununu and Rivera, there is some legitimacy in Sununu’s claim about Lawrence being a hot bed of activity for heroin and fentanyl.

Most of the heroin coming to New England originates in Colombia and travels through Mexico, according to a 2013 report from The New York Times. Despite an increase in the number of seizures along the southern U.S. border, enough is still getting through to major distribution centers, including Philadelphia and New York, which then makes its way into northern New England, “often through Lowell, Lawerence, and Holyoke, Mass.”

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2014 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, most heroin supplies in the New England region are brought in from New York along the vast interstate highway system, naming I-95 and I-93 as the major routes for New Hampshire’s heroin trafficking routes. The report also named Lawrence as a main distribution center for northern New England states.

“Massachusetts also serves as a staging area or interim transportation point for heroin being transported north,” the report states. “Lawrence and Lowell, north of Boston, are distribution centers for northern New England and Canada. Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are supplied with heroin chiefly by drug groups in northeastern Massachusetts, particularly in Lawrence and Lowell.”

Western Massachusetts is one of the staging areas for distribution in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire because drug dealers from those states who want the product have to drive to Massachusetts to get it because drug penalties in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire are stricter in the three northern New England states.

Because Lawrence sits on the I-93 highway, police have said many drug deals occur at fast-food restaurants off the highway exits.

It is so widely known that Lawrence is a main distributor for the opioid crisis, that even Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said it to the Times in 2016.

“Massachusetts is the epicenter for the heroin/fentanyl trade,” she said. “From Lawrence, it’s being trafficked and sold all over the New England states.”

For example, undercover detectives followed a car on a heroin buying mission from Manchester to Lawrence and back on Sept. 15, 2015, which resulted in one arrest.

Still, despite these reports and former statements that show Lawrence is a main distributor of heroin and fentanyl for New England, Rivera took offense that Sununu called out his city.

“Just like the President is finding out that health care is complicated, I think that the governor is going to find out that this is a complicated issue,” Rivera said in a hastily scheduled press conference on Thursday. “I’m not sure that he meant to threaten the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but he did.”

One of the major problems Rivera had was with Sununu’s claim that 85 percent of the fentanyl entering New Hampshire came from Lawrence.

“I would ask you guys to ask him where he got that number from,” he charged reporters. “I don’t know if it’s a true number. I think the problem is if you think like ‘oh you snuff out what’s happening in Lawrence, it will all go away.’ I know he’s only been on the job 60 days, but the reality is it’s like water, it will find another place to go.”

Rivera and Sununu eventually spoke on Thursday afternoon, and Sununu released a statement after the call.

“The Mayor and his local law enforcement personnel have been doing a good job on this issue, but we must recognize this is a cross-border problem that requires cross-border solutions,” Sununu said. “It has no geographic boundaries and it remains incumbent upon all of us to come together and work collaboratively across our borders along with federal, state and local law enforcement.”

Sununu’s office has not offered any evidence of his “85-percent” claim, but regardless, Lawrence’s role in the opioid crisis cannot be disputed.

Baker, the Massachusetts governor, weighed in on the controversy, and said, “I do view this as a problem that affects us all and I think singling out a single community or a single state is not accurate.”

New Hampshire Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn offered his two cents.

“Instead of antagonizing key regional partners in our collective fight to combat the devastating effects of the opioid crisis, Governor Sununu should be fighting for our state’s successful Medicaid expansion program which has helped over 100,000 Granite Staters gain access to mental health and substance abuse treatment,” he said in a statement. “New Hampshire needs steady and serious leadership from the Governor’s office that focuses on a holistic approach to solving this public health crisis, not reckless, cavalier comments.”

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