Legislative Update – February 1, 2019
The House and Senate both held full sessions this week to deal with committee recommendations on the first batches of 2019 legislation. Thursday may have marked the end of the road for some bills, but in a budget year, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. It’s not unusual for bills to rise from the dead as amendments to other bills, and this year they may also reappear in the budget.
The devil’s in the details
From a 50,000-foot view, Governor Chris Sununu and Democrats are on the same page as far as paid family and medical leave is concerned. They all want a program. They all believe it would attract younger workers and would be good for families, the economy and the state in general. They agree a private insurer should be the first choice to administer it. After that, things get complicated. Governor Sununu’s plan, offered alongside Vermont Governor Phil Scott, would start with the insurance buying power of the combined 18,500 public employees in the two states, who would be covered as an employee benefit. The program would then be expanded into the private sector on a voluntary basis and would offer six weeks of coverage. All 14 Democratic senators have signed on as sponsors of their own version, SB 1, which had a public hearing this week. Their bill would cover up to twelve weeks and would not include an opt-out provision, as last year’s proposal did. Democrats in the House will unveil their proposal next week. Given the high profile of the issue and its importance to both parties, the issue is likely to be debated right through to the end of the session.
All I need is the air that I breathe
The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee hosted a crowded hearing on a bill to discourage fossil fuel use by establishing a fee on vendors that use or import carbon-based fuels. The program would set the rate at $20 per ton and raise an estimated $300 million in the first year. The revenues would be directed to residential rebates and energy programs for low-income residents and some businesses. Democrats said the proposal is the best available tool to reduce carbon emissions, a problem that has been unaddressed by the federal government for too long. Republicans said the idea would carry too big an economic cost to justify what they said would be small environmental gains.
It’s 14-10, once again
Last year there were a lot of 14-10 votes in Senate sessions, and it was the majority Republicans who got the 14. This year there may also be many votes with that same total, but it will be the new majority Democrats who will be prevailing. This week, Democrats supported a bill to use surplus funds for an increase in reimbursement rates and capacity for mental health beds. Republicans criticized the bill as an attempt to fast-track an incomplete solution to the emergency room boarding issue. Democrats said the problem has been growing and action needs to be taken right away. The bill will be sent to a second committee for deeper financial analysis. The Senate also approved a job-training measure that increases annual funding by $4 million, saying the additional money would improve the program, especially for workers in recovery. Republicans argued the bill is unnecessary, since there are already millions of unspent dollars sitting in state job training funds.
No warrants warranted
The House concurred with a Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee recommendation and killed a bill that would have required state conservation officers to get a warrant for basic searches involving wildlife and recreational laws. The committee had found the bill would impede the officers’ abilities to enforce state laws.
Legislative committees will continue to hold public hearings and executive sessions next week. The calendar is full, and the week is shaping up to be their busiest thus far. The House and the Senate will both meet in session on February 14. Governor Sununu will deliver his Budget Address the same day.