Legislative Update: April 13, 2018

Legislative Update: April 13, 2018

Crowd control

The legislative hallways were full of interested citizens this week, as several committees held hearings on controversial bills.  A hearing on the proposed constitutional amendment for the victims’ rights measure known as Marsy’s Law and several work sessions on the Medicaid expansion bill, all drew big crowds.  A measure involving animal cruelty laws, bills on renewable energy, the Berlin biomass plant and a bill on a road usage fee for fuel-efficient vehicles were also heavily attended.  The House and Senate met in brief sessions on Thursday.

(All I Need is) The Air that I Breathe

Governor Chris Sununu this week released his plan for how he thinks the state should spend about $31 million over the next ten years as a result of the Volkswagen settlement case.  The Governor’s plan must still go through public input sessions in late April and May, with the written comment period set to end June 5.  Cleaner air is a major goal of the proposal, with plans to replace significant portions of state and municipal government diesel fuel vehicle fleets with more energy-efficient vehicles.  The vehicles would include school buses, transit buses, shuttle buses and freight vehicles. The plan also sets aside $4.6 million for electric vehicle charging stations, the maximum amount available for that use.

Runnin’ on empty

The governor this week said he will veto a bill that would create a road usage fee, if it reaches his desk.  Supporters say the fee is a fair way of ensuring that drivers of higher mileage and alternative fuel vehicles contribute to road maintenance as gas tax revenues decline.  The fee would be charged at registration time and is based on the MPG of the vehicle. Governor Sununu said the bill is not something he could support in its current form.

Dollars for scholars

The Executive Council voted 3-2 to approve a $4.1 million scholarship program Governor Sununu had listed as one of his education priorities in his budget proposal a year ago. The state-funded program is open to New Hampshire high school graduates who are eligible for Pell Grants, the need-based federal grants for low-income undergraduate students. The two Democrats on the Council voted against the program, citing constitutional concerns about the inclusion of religious schools.

I think that I shall never see a thing as lovely as a tree

The House Science Energy and Technology Committee heard testimony this week on two related bills on renewable energy and preserving the Burgess biomass plant in Berlin.  Loggers and other forest industry workers testifying in favor of SB 365 asked the committee to be mindful of the importance of the forest industry to the North Country economy. Several utilities and a state utility advocate that opposed the bill cited overall rate increases and threats to the stability of the market.  The mayor of Berlin joined other North Country elected officials and a Burgess Biomass executive in supporting SB 577, a bill that would require the Public Utilities Commission to consider certain economic and other criteria in deciding the future of any changes in the order that keeps the plant operating.  The mayor elaborated on the positive impact the plant has had on his city and the North Country as a whole.

The House and Senate will meet in session next Thursday, April 19.