Legislative Update January 20, 2017

By January 20, 2017Advocacy

Well, that didn’t take long.

The full Senate met on Thursday and passed two Republican priority bills, right to work and repeal of the concealed carry weapons permit. Both received committee approval a week ago and passed the Senate by votes of 12-11 and 13-10, respectively, almost entirely on party lines. The feeling inside the State House is that Republicans want to act quickly on measures such as these, where there is little room for agreement, so that the majority of the session can be open for the budget and other issues where compromise and consensus are possible.

Pretty soon you’re talking real money.

With apologies to the late Senator Everett Dirksen, who was talking billions, reference to a million here and a million there took on real meaning last week when the Department of Health and Human Services told the Joint House-Senate Fiscal Committee that it is facing a $65 million deficit as of the end of 2016. Officials said the deficit results from higher than anticipated spending on Medicaid rates paid to companies managing the program, higher Medicaid caseloads and higher uncompensated care payments to hospitals. Some lawmakers, who had been hearing generally good news about the budget of late, were upset with the report. Governor Sununu said this week the state is in danger of running a deficit at the end of the fiscal year, depending upon April and May tax revenues.

Let’s make a deal.

University System of New Hampshire officials this week proposed a two-year cap on tuition increases – but only if lawmakers give them an additional $13 million in budget funding. Workforce issues, the highest in the nation student debt for in-state students and ongoing state budget concerns will all play a role in the outcome here.

Help is on the way.

The Senate on Thursday passed two bills that would allow those suffering from hepatitis C and severe pain to qualify for the Therapeutic Cannabis (medical marijuana) program. Other bills that would add PTSD and fibromyalgia to the list of qualifying conditions are also in the pipeline.

Freeze!

Out of concern over a possible budget shortfall, Governor Sununu this week called on state agencies to freeze all hiring and major equipment purchases for six months. The governor said agencies that might have exigent hiring needs, such as the Division of Child and Youth Services, should bring the requests to his office.

No baggage fees.

A bill that would regulate the use of aerial drones appears to be encountering some of the same flak that brought it down last year. The House Executive Departments and Administration Committee heard from supporters that tweaks in this year’s version make the bill worthy of passage. But opponents from the real estate, insurance and hi-tech industries, the American Civil Liberties Union and various drone enthusiasts objected to the non-governmental use sections of the bill as being too strict.

Both chambers will continue with public committee hearings this coming week. The House will meet in session on Thursday, January 26. The Senate has not scheduled its next session.