Legislative Update – February 8, 2019
House and Senate committees continued their deliberations this week, many with full slates of hearings and voting sessions. Both chambers will meet in session next Thursday, February 14, when there will be flowers and chocolate for some bills, and a good-bye for others. Governor Chris Sununu will deliver his Budget Address that morning, signaling the beginning of what promises to be an arduous budget process.
Last year, lawmakers reached a bi-partisan compromise on a work requirement for the state’s Medicaid expansion program. The agreement paved the way for passage of the bill that reauthorized the program. This year, new majority Democrats in both chambers have sponsored bills regarding the provision. The House bill, which had a public hearing this week, would undo the requirement, while the Senate bill would alter it. Under the reauthorization agreement, residents would do 100 hours of work or volunteer activity each month to keep their Medicaid coverage.
Workin’ on the railroad
The long debate over passenger rail service was renewed this week as the mayors of Manchester and Nashua appeared before the Senate Transportation Committee to make their case for the first part of the Capitol Corridor commuter rail project. The legislature turned down the idea in recent years, citing the estimated cost and the prospect of having to permanently subsidize the service. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and Nashua Mayor James Donchess appeared in support of a bill that would allow the state to access federal funding for the project development phase of what they said would be an economic boon for the state. Nashua officials this week announced a cost estimate of about $5 million to build a train station in the Gate City that would serve both the Capitol Corridor project and the Boston Surface Railroad, which would connect to Massachusetts.
Workers in the road ahead
Another debate that has been around for a few years had a hearing this week. The House Public Works and Highways Committee heard testimony on a proposal to institute a registration surcharge on vehicles that get more than 20 miles per gallon. Supporters said New Hampshire’s roads and bridges need more funding as the gasoline tax revenues used for maintenance continue to decline with the growth in popularity of high miles per gallon vehicles. Opponents said the miles per gallon methodology is archaic, and that owners of fuel-efficient vehicles would be punished for doing something positive for the environment.
On a 4-2 party line vote, the Senate Finance Committee voted to send the Democrats’ version of paid family and medical leave to the Senate floor. Committee Democrats added several amendments they hope will address concerns raised in testimony, including allowing the commissioner of Employment Security the flexibility to make certain changes to the program. The commissioner would have the latitude to increase or decrease the length of leave time, and decrease the benefits payable to the fund in the event of a surplus. The amendments were not enough to attract GOP support.
My work here is done
After 12 years as the Commissioner of Safety and more than 40 years in public safety service, Commissioner John Barthelmes will be retiring in March. Barthelmes was appointed by then-Governor John Lynch to replace longtime Safety Commissioner Richard M. Flynn.
The House and Senate will meet in session on February 14. The House has a February 21 deadline to report out bills that are destined for a second committee.