Legislative Update – January 25, 2019
The House was in full swing this week, with almost every committee holding public hearings. Legislators heard debates on education, the opioid crisis, tax policy, condominium association issues and medical marijuana. The Senate Transportation Committee received briefings from several state agencies. Senators will begin holding public hearings next
We’ve only just begun
The session is not yet a month old, but both chambers are at work on the 1,000 or so bills they face this year. Following agency briefings in previous weeks, the Senate began its first public hearings, taking testimony on issues ranging from job training to Medicaid rates. Some House and Senate committees have already voted up or down recommendations on pending bills, and the full chambers will meet to act on them next week.
Tackling a tough opponent
The state’s mental health crisis, painfully difficult for victims and families, is also proving to be a challenge for lawmakers working to find solutions. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 4-1 vote recommended passage of a proposal to use state surplus funds to expand the number of crisis beds available for patients. The bill seeks to alleviate the current problem that sees many people waiting in hospital emergency rooms for inpatient psychiatric beds in receiving facilities or the state hospital. Although millions of dollars, including federal monies, have been designated for the crisis, supporters of the new proposal say there are still dozens of patients, including children, waiting in emergency rooms. Governor Chris Sununu, who oversaw the targeting of money to the crisis last year, supports further investment, but says funding should come by way of the ongoing budget process, and not through the use of surplus funds. The bill goes before the full Senate on Thursday, and if successful there, on to the Finance Committee.
It’s déjà vu all over again
The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee began its 2019 work with a trip back to the future on a bill similar to one they saw last session, and another that echoed back to the ‘70s. The first, a bill like one Governor Sununu vetoed last year, would expand net metering so larger generators could qualify. The new version has changes aimed at concerns from last year, including addressing ratepayer costs. The Senate will see an identical bill. The second measure involves the proposed siting of an LNG facility in Epping. The debate pits those who believe the current site evaluation process is working versus those who want to give communities additional local control. The discussions brought back memories of the Seacoast oil refinery siting battles of the 1970s.
Workin’ on the workforce
The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony this week on a workforce development bill sponsored by all 14 Democratic senators. The Business and Industry Association and various organized labor associations voiced strong support for the measure, saying it allocates increased funding to address the state’s much-publicized workforce development issues and would provide needed resources for companies wanting to offer skilled training. Opponents questioned whether the bill is necessary, in view of what they said are significant amounts of unspent money already available in unemployment and job training accounts. The bill goes to the full Senate next week.
Let it be
The House Public Works and Highways Committee decided Tuesday that if the state is going to charge tolls, the Executive Council should continue to have the authority to set the rates. The committee voted 19-0 to recommend killing a bill that would have given the legislature the power to set toll rates and charges.
Mind if I take a look?
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted not to recommend a bill that would have required state conservation officers to get a warrant for almost any type of search related to their enforcement of wildlife and recreational laws. The committee sided with the Fish and Game Commission and department, finding that the bill would seriously impede conservation officers’ abilities to enforce state laws and regulations.
The House and the Senate will hold their first full sessions on Thursday, Jan. 31, to vote on committee recommendations that have been sent forward thus far.