Effingham — October 20, 2004 — Sen. Joe Kenney defended his voting record last week, a record his Democratic challenger claims is twice-scarred by his support of a bill that gutted Tamworth’s control over a proposed racetrack and one that caused health insurance premiums to spike for some people.
Kenney and Tamworth Democract William Farnum faced off amiably Wednesday night, headlining a candidates forum before a crowd matched in number by the 12 House and Senate hopefuls who ascended remote Green Mountain in Effingham to campaign at Lakeview Neuro-Rehabilitation Center’s mail hall.
In a dueling town meeting-style format, Farnum, who received 444 write-in votes in the Democratic side of the primary, stepped up first to hit on major campaign points: The Tamworth racetrack debacle, health care and noise pollution.
Farnum, the self-billed “unelected selectman” of Tamworth, promised foremost to return powers to local people, especially those powers he said were quietly snatched from voters last year in towns like Tamworth, by irresponsible senate legislation, SB 458.
As a result of the bill’s passage, Farnum said Wednesday night, towns without very specific zoning regulations may find themselves unable to restrict certain kinds development. In March, 2003, the race track-related Senate Bill 458, made moot a local ordinance that would have let Tamworth regulate the proposed $28 million, 251-acre driving sports country club development on Mount Whittier.
Quietly, the bill unanimously passed both the House and the Senate on the consent calendar, and was not flagged by usual Concord watchdog lobbyists such as the NH Municipal Association. The passage of the bill prompted cries of backdoor dealing. Rep. Harry Merrow (R-Ossipee) has since admitted that he and other local representatives missed the bill that he said was “snuck” through the legislature, and in September filed legislation to “flat out repeal” the controversial law.
“The bill should be repealed,” Farnum said. “We should go back to the start and have everyone at the table.”
Farnum said that Kenney’s failure to adequately look into the bill or to even make a few phone calls to Tamworth, has jeopardized local authority in the many New Hampshire towns without zoning regulations. “I feel the Senate and House taken local control away from (more than 100) towns in New Hampshire,” he said.
Kenney, who chairs the Transportation Committee, where the bill was heard, said at the time, the bill seemed simply an innocuous and reasonable redefinition of the term ‘racetrack’. “SB 458 is a bill that went before my committee,” Kenney said. “In my mind it was trying to define a new recreational usage,” that is, a private practice facility vs. a larger, louder Loudon-style spectator facility. Kenney argued that the law opens New Hampshire’s economy to a new type of business that could bring jobs, tax revenue and money to be spent on local goods and services. “It would bring another new economy to the state,” he said.
Kenney said the bill’s unexpected effect on local authority, however, is a problem and needs to be re-examined.
“Absolutely,” he said, “Part of this bill went too far with local control. We need to revisit it.”
Kenney added that should state and federal permitting agencies give developers the go ahead, the right to start construction is justly theirs.
The second complaint lodged against Kenney’s voting record rested on SB 110, a health care bill that Farnum called a handout to insurance companies. According to Farnum, the bill allows insurers to charge higher premiums in areas like the North Country, where employers are already hard-pressed to provide affordable health insurance to workers. “SB 110 has damaged the North Country. In the northern counties, 40 percent of the people are uninsured,” Farnum said. “And it will only get worse with this bill.” “Most people don’t even have heath care, they have castastrophic health care, high deductible,” Farnum continued. “We need to make insurance work for people, not insurance companies. This law is a great gift to insurance companies.”
The law, he said, also allows insurers to increase premiums on small businesses with a workforce fitting a risky profile, including older or chronically-ill people and those with physically dangerous jobs. Farnum fears such employers may be forced to reduce or drop coverage in the event of inevitable rate hikes.
Kenney defended his support of the bill, contending that the new law will help break a near insurance monopoly in New Hampshire, shared by two companies, Sigma and Anthem. The old law, he argued, caused other insurers to shun the state, leaving rates to skyrocket in a market devoid of competition. “I voted for SB 110,” Kenney said, citing numerous reports from voters whose rates shot up by 10-20 percent. “Primarily for this fact alone.”
“Insurance companies said we can’t come into New Hampshire and compete. SB 110 creates competition,” he explained. “What it has done is to look at health issues of each person,” according to geographic location and age.
However, Kenney agreed with his accuser that the new law is imperfect, in that it sets no limits on rate increases. “We thought it would be capped at 25 percent,” he said, claiming that after the bill passed the Senate, it was gutted in the House, where expected limits to potential rate increases were removed.
This is a problem for many New Hampshire workers aged 55-64, Kenney said, whose health generally declines in the 10 years before Medicare kicks in. “I believe SB 110 has a lot of flaws in it,” he admitted. “We need to get back to the legislature to fix the flaws. That group of older people just before medicare need to have a lower rate.”
Noise control also is a problem, both agreed. Farnum argued the state should muffle motorcycle exhaust noise, and that un-baffled bikes bawling through quiet villages are unhealthy for the populace. “People drive down the road with earplugs because they can’t stand the noise in their own vehicles,” he said. “Loud noise causes health problems, deafness, anxiety and frustration. If you live along (Rt. 16 or Rt. 25) during motorcycle weekend it’s not pleasant.”
People come to New Hampshire to get renewed in the rural quiet, he said “It’s pretty hard to be renewed every time a motorcycle goes by with the decibels that are there.”
Farnum applauded Kenney’s no vote on a law that legalizes after-market exhaust systems for bikes. The “very delicate” House Bill 243 passed by a narrow margin, according Kenney, who said his vote against it as Transportation Committee chair earned him some flak. “HB243 is very much debated,” Kenney said. “Hobbyists, motorcycle enthusiasts are allowed to change exhaust systems with any type of exhaust system with a reasonable noise level.”
Kenney said support for the bill came from riders who own older cycles and have a hard time finding older parts. Problems were reported concerning stops by police for being “a little too loud,” Kenney said, and cyclists wanted to “loosen that up.” He agreed with Farnum that noise control is a problem, noting that Conway Police announced this year that they would not enforce noise restrictions during Bike Week 2004. Kenney suggested a commission on noise, and a possible a formal one-week amnesty from noise restrictions for Bike Week.
Kenney and Farnum were to head Tuesday to Tuftonboro to answer environmental questions from three conservation commissions in the southern end of the district. Also speaking Wednesday night were incumbent Republican House District 6 representatives. All are from Ossipee: Harry Merrow, David Babson and Mark McConkey; Democratic challengers Joe Chromy from Center Ossipee, and Christine Kurtz-White from Tamworth; Incumbent District 5 Rep. J Lisbeth Olimpio (R-Sanbornville) and fellow Republican, Jim Martin who edged Olimpio by three votes in the district primary; and District 5 Democrats Curt Carr and Martha Pike. Sandwich Democrat Leo Goldman, the third challenger for a District 6 seat, was not present. The forum was moderated by Carroll County Republican Chairwoman, Betsy Patten, state Rep. from. Tuftonboro.
Senate District 3 towns are: Brookfield, Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Effingham, Farmington, Freedom, Madison, Middleton, Milton, Moultonborough, Ossipee, Sandwich, Tamworth, Tuftonboro, Wakefield and Wolfeboro. House District 6 towns are: Freedom, Ossipee, Sandwich and Tamworth. House District 5 towns are: Effingham, Brookfield and Wakefield.