Statewide liberty issues

I’ve been occupied this past week with winding down my current job, and with the fact that my S.O. has spring break this week. In fact, I almost forgot my commitment to a weekly post, whether you want it or not.

There was a lot of action at the state capitol these last two days, though; some good, some bad, from a liberty perspective. In no particular order:

The House voted to ban sending text messages or otherwise typing while driving. The New Hampshire Liberty Alliance gave this a score of ‒11; however, I don’t have a serious problem with banning patently unsafe behavior. (Unsafe to others, that is.) That said, I really wish that we could boil down a whole set of laws into a simple reckless endangerment law. If you are weaving all over the road and jeopardizing your fellow drivers, I don’t really care whether you are drunk, high, tired, texting, talking on the phone, talking to your passengers, putting on makeup, shaving, reading, or slapping your kids. If witnesses can convince a jury that you were endangering others on the road, possibly provoking them to engage in unsafe driving in order to dodge you, then you should be punished. Being drunk or sending a text message should be circumstances that weigh into your reckless conduct, but it is the reckless driving that is the problem and should be the legal standard.

The House also rejected a ban on smoking when children are in a car. And once again, I love this state; the reasons for rejecting the ban were not that smoking around kids is a great idea, but that “refraining from smoking around children is common sense and should not be legislated.” Although New Hampshire is no libertarian paradise, I have heard more sanity and common sense coming out of politicians’ mouths here in a a few months than in nine years in San Francisco.

Speaking of San Francisco, I was sad to see the marriage equality law come out of committee with a 5–5 vote. I understand that people don’t want their government (and it is their government, just as much as it’s mine) to endorse a lifestyle they find reprehensible. But until we get government out of marriage, it must treat all citizens equally. If a given two adults can enter into a contract with each other, then any two adults must be able to enter into an identical contract. And from a government perspective, that is all a marriage is.

A medical marijuana law also passed the House, which is good news. Drug prohibition is utterly inane, and as evidently counter-productive as alcohol prohibition was. But to further deny terminally ill people medicine prescribed by a doctor is just perverse. Some critics allege that this is a slippery slope to decriminalizing recreational marijuana. They’re right, but that’s a reason to be happy with this step.

And finally, the House voted to repeal the death penalty. A death penalty is one of the most odious things any government can have. I do believe there are some people who are so bad that they should die, and that society would be the better for it. But if I don’t trust the government to regulate banks, care for the poor, or educate children, how can I trust them to decide who lives and who dies? And as more and more people on death row (or already executed) are found innocent, the notion of keeping a death penalty is more and more intractable. This news made me quite happy.

Next week, with any luck, more local Portsmouth issues again.

Local corned beef & cabbage?

I suppose it’s not actually St. Patrick’s Day any more, as I post this, but still.

Last week’s post garnered a great comment about the usefulness of local cable access. I am one of those irritating snobs who doesn’t own a TV, but I am checking on what would be involved in getting a couple of different shows onto Portsmouth CATV.

The budget analysis terrifies me, but I found out yesterday that I know someone in the finance department at City Hall. No idea yet whether that will be at all useful, but it might be.

The big fun of the last week was my ever-so-exciting Monday night. As previously announced, I went to the kick-off of Seacoast Local’s Farm to Business program, but ended up talking to folks about local seafood issues. Local food movements are a good place to meet other people who are annoyed at the government; we would all have so many more choices about where we could get our food if it weren’t for the insane pile of regulations in the way. Seacoast fishers catch lots of fish—but because of licensing issues at the state and federal level, the fish all goes all the way to Boston, and then most of it goes up to York, Maine, before it even has a chance to get to a Portsmouth table. There is a huge amount of interest in changing that—but because actually changing the law is so prohibitively difficult, it becomes a matter of figuring out the right dance to do around the existing regulations.

After that was over, I caught what was left of the City Council meeting, which proved to be quite a bit. The public hearing on the Capital Improvement Plan (which is non-binding, but informs the budget process) took quite a long time, I gather, so the meeting ran until nearly 11 pm. It is the little things that interest me, though; when I got there, a woman was arguing with the Council about her business sign. She took over a business space that had a sign. She asked the business owner to leave the sign up; he took it down. Now, for her to mount a new sign in exactly the same place and of exactly the same dimensions as the previous business, she needs a business variance and permission from the Planning Commission, which will take at least two months to grant, if she’s lucky. Local government is irritating like sand in a swimsuit.

The only other point of interesting discussion was the contract for the new Superintendent of Schools. The Council had previously authorized a contract up to $130,000; the new contract is a bit under that, but the economy is more obviously bad since the authorization, and so two Councilors voted against the contract. This is kind of deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic stuff; no realistic candidate is going to work for less than $120,000, and the search committee itself will be spending money in the process. Oh, I have an idea: what if the public education was provided by a non-profit not subject to this political nonsense? Crazy! Oh, wait—it worked just fine until the late 1800s when people got paranoid about the Catholics and immigrants and their un-American educations.

A conspiracy of two

Fellow Portsmouth resident and Free State Project member Jared is in. We met last night to brainstorm some more ideas on what to do.

We were in agreement that the long-term goal should be to get people thinking differently. Outreach and education needs to be a critical part of whatever we do. To that end, Jared is checking on the details of getting a booth at Market Square Day in June.

However, the lesson I took from the taxpayers group is that if you aren’t doing anything, people won’t see a point in joining you. So we still need at least one project to work on.

And here is the problem with living in a place as lovely as Portsmouth: there just aren’t any huge, obvious problems. The tax burden is modest, and the services given with that money are fairly decent. The police aren’t rampantly abusive, so far as I know, there is a very small indigent population, and it’s fairly safe. The last place I lived, it was more a question of which huge problem to address first; here, it’s a matter of finding a problem that will engage people. This is what ultimately scuttled the spending cap attempt; it’s just not that bad.

To be sure, there is waste in the city budget. Many city employees are overpaid, and the pensions are going to come due at some point. Many things the city does could be done by volunteers and/or non-profit organizations. And the police does waste a fair bit of time on silly exercises; I am convinced they could get by with a smaller force.

But unfortunately, it looks like I’m going to have to begin with a review of the city budget to find out where the biggest opportunities are. Not really my idea of fun, but unless there’s something blatant I’m overlooking, that’s where I’ll have to start.

Next Monday, I’m going to a kick-off meeting of Seacoast Local’s Farm to Business program. My chief interest there is identifying ways in which the government gets in the way of sustainable efforts (e.g., the continuing ban on uninspected poultry at the farmers’ market) and then working with the farmers and local businesses to eliminate those barriers.

New Hampshire HCR 6 Rally

Below is video footage from today’s HCR6 Rally in Concord, New Hampshire.  As noted, there were about 350 people (some accounts state over 500 as there were additional people in the State House passing out information regarding the resolution) in the cold weather at 8am.

While the rally went well, the resolution did not pass (see how your representative voted here) which was not too much of  a surprise.  It is wonderful news though now that we know who doesn’t understand this resolution, as well as the encouraging news to see states all across the union bringing similar resolutions up in their state legislative bodies.

No spending cap this year in Portsmouth

I am very disappointed that the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers voted last week not to pursue a spending cap and tax cap this year.

The reasoning was that the city is making a good faith effort to keep spending down this year, trying for a zero budget increase. That makes it hard to muster the angry citizenry to build energy behind an initiative like this, and it was felt that the city politicos should be given some breathing room to do their work.

Needless to say, I disagree. I think that although people might not be as excited about a spending cap as when faced with runaway spending, the time to lock in the tax rates is now, rather than after they’ve been raised, and the city politicians should be put on the spot as to whether or not they support keeping the budget growth small.

I will continue to work with APT on specific issues, but I am a little sad at their reluctance to rock the boat. Fortunately, I have a few other projects cooking… stay tuned.