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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Planned Parenthood fight not over; safe to be opened for 1st time since 1950s

November 25. 2017 11:40PM
Planned Parenthood supporters crowd into the Executive Council chambers for the council vote on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

The question of state funding for Planned Parenthood, always a politically contentious issue at the State House, may not yet be settled despite a 3-2 vote by the Executive Council two weeks ago to approve a two-year, $548,000 contract with the organization for family planning services at locations in Manchester, Derry, and Exeter.

Planned Parenthood was one of 10 health care vendors approved at the Nov. 8 council meeting, for contracts totaling $2.9 million, retroactive to July 1 in all but one case (Mascoma Community HealthCare, a new vendor).

It's the retroactive aspect of the contract that could trigger a legal challenge, according to Manchester attorney Michael Tierney, who has represented New Hampshire Right to Life in several high-profile lawsuits against Planned Parenthood in recent years.

Teirney points to language in the contracts that he says clearly prohibits retroactive payments.

Here's the contract language from Exhibit C, Special Provisions: "Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the contract or in any other document, contract or understanding, it is expressly understood and agreed by the parties that no payments will be made to reimburse the contractor for costs incurred for any purpose or for any services provided prior to the effective date of the contract."

According to Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice, the vote by the council to approve the contracts retroactively, as requested in the cover letter from DHHS commissioner Jeffrey Meyers, overrides the language in the Special Provisions.

"By approving the item, which requested retroactive approval of the contracts, the Governor and Council were approving payments retroactive to July 1, 2017," she wrote in an email.

Tierney disputes that, saying, "The case law is clear that a specific provision in the contract itself controls over a contrary statement in a cover letter."

"As far as our next steps, we are currently evaluating our options and the viability of seeking injunctive relief," Tierney said.

Although the councilors were split on the funding vote, their distaste for retroactive contracts is unanimous.

They pressed Meyers and Deputy Public Health Director Patricia Tilley on why they were voting in November on contracts that started on July 1. "These are lines of credit building up with people who have been running operations now for 90 days in anticipation of this money," said Councilor Russell Prescott, R-Kingston.

Even though it was clear the existing contracts would expire on June 30, DHHS did not post a notice for applications from vendors until June 16, and accepted them on Aug. 4.

Meyers attributed the delay in part to staffing shortages in the department, which also faced legislative deadlines for getting requests for proposals out on a variety of issues, mostly related to drug abuse and mental health.

"We were trying to get a broad range of applications, and we were down three individuals in the contracting unit," he said. "It was a confluence of events. We were trying to meet legislative mandates to issue requests for proposals and substance use disorder contracts we had to go forward with as well. I'm not saying it was a perfect process. We are trying to get some more resources. But those are the main reasons we are where we are today."

The great vault reveal

Anyone old enough to recall Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault at the Lexington Hotel in Chicago during a live TV broadcast in 1986 can relate to the suspense surrounding a shuttered safe at the State House, which will be opened on Monday for the first time since the 1950s.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper has been pushing to have the century-old vault in Room 103 at the State House broken into, since no one has the combination.

The safe was manufactured by the Mosler Safe Company in 1884.

Jasper finally got the go-ahead from the Joint Legislative Facilities Committee to crack the safe on the upper level of what is now the Senate Finance Committee room, with donated help from Kamco Lock Solutions of Nashua.

The great reveal comes at 10 a.m. on Nov. 27, with Senate and House leadership and various State House media expected to be on hand for the event.

"There's probably nothing in there but a bunch of old papers," says Jasper, but we'll soon find out.

Al Capone's vault, for those who don't recall or weren't around at the time, turned out to be empty except for assorted debris.

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