Legislative Update April 14, 2017
Neither the House nor the Senate met in session this week. With remaining legislation having crossed over to the other chamber, committees continued hearing bills and voting on recommendations. The Executive Council held public hearings on the nominations of Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield as commissioner of Labor, and retired U.S. Army Colonel Peter Kujawski of Bedford as commissioner of Environmental Services.
Moving the budget ahead
The Senate Finance Committee began work this week on the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget. With no official House budget as a basis, senators are starting with the $12.1 billion budget Governor Chris Sununu submitted in early February. The committee had House Finance members in on Monday to speak about the House budget, which remains Tabled in that body. Agency heads followed during the week, with some making arguments for the Senate to restore items cut by the House. Just over the horizon are the all-important April and May tax revenues, which will give senators a more up-to-date idea of what kind of money is available.
A capital idea, old chap
Lost in the dust-up created by the House failure to pass the biennial budget last week was the fact that the House did pass the 2018-2019 Capital Budget. The capital budget, which involves larger, longer-term spending projects that are funded by way of bonding and matches of federal funds, was basically on target, coming in only about $94,000 over the level recommended by the state Treasurer. Among the projects approved by the House were new courthouses in Milford and Hampton, new state liquor stores in Hampton and Portsmouth, men’s state prison improvements, state park improvements and $9.6 million for the community college system. The Senate Capital Budget Committee held an initial public hearing this week on the House version. Testimony was dominated by support for a new Hampton court house and support for greatly increasing the $500,000 appropriation the House recommended for affordable housing. Advocates have been asking for $5 million in assistance, but some committee members expressed concerns about whether local governments and/or the private sector should be more involved in funding projects, rather than the state.
A House-passed bill proposing to regulate commercial and private use of drones had a bumpy flight through the Senate Executive Departments and Administration Committee this week. There was significant opposition on the proposed restrictions, as there was in the House, from business and insurance interests, as well as from hobbyists, contractors and drone industry representatives. Some committee members suggested that existing privacy laws already regulate the industry, and they questioned the need for further legislation. For the past several years, drone legislation has followed the same path, passing the House, but hitting turbulence in the Senate that has thus far resulted in no new drone legislation.
Feel the burn
The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee heard testimony this week on legislation that would make changes to the New Hampshire Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Advocates said the goal of the bill is to help the state’s struggling biomass industry, while also raising the solar renewable energy cap to grow the solar industry. The hearing came on the heels of the announcement that a biomass plant in Alexandria will close at the end of the month. Proponents said the legislation would not only help biomass plants, but also the forestry industry, which supplies an estimated 200,000 tons of wood a year to the state’s six biomass plants. The bill would also require that 15% of the funds go to benefit low to moderate income residential customers, and it would make some adjustments to the renewable energy certificate requirements. Opponents raised concerns that the increased Alternative Compliance Payment in the legislation would lead to higher electric rates for New Hampshire customers.
The House and the Senate will meet in session next Thursday, April 20.